When Coldplay released its 2000 debut album, Parachutes, it was widely compared to fellow U.K. band Travis, who had already released two full-lengths, including 1999’s classic The Man Who. More than a decade later, it’s easy to forget that the two groups were once so similar: Coldplay quickly embraced widescreen atmospherics, universal sloganeering, and electronic flourishes, while Travis chose to stay on the path it was on—a more introspective route full of post-Oasis Britpop with a sensitive soul and keenly observational lyrics.
Travis’ seventh studio album, Where You Stand, is a lovely reminder of just how good the quartet is at what it does. Unlike 2008’s Ode To J. Smith, whose electric guitars conjured the raucous vibe of its 1997 debut, Good Feeling, Where You Stand has a contemplative, grown-up disposition and instrumentation to match. Meticulous acoustic plucking, toned-down electric guitar, and majestic piano combine for rich melodies—bolstering the album’s jangly folk (“Mother”), power-pop (“On My Wall”), and sparkling rock (the chiming title track)—while the rhythm section of bassist Dougie Payne and drummer Neil Primrose subtly pushes the album’s songs forward. As befitting the music, Fran Healy’s voice has a slightly weathered edge, although his singing is strong; he soars to the top of his range on “A Different Room” and the Keane-esque “Moving,” and croons with the restraint and melisma of a cabaret singer on the piano ballad “The Big Screen.”
Despite these familiar touchstones, Where You Stand finds Travis venturing outside of its familiar musical zones. The cutting “Another Guy” pulls no punches as it describes someone’s affair being discovered (“You can cry all you like / But it don’t change a thing”), matching the horror of betrayal with clipped rhythms and minor-key melodies. The funky “New Shoes,” meanwhile, has a muddy hip-hop vibe that resembles unplugged Gorillaz, while the sparse piano and burbling production of “Boxes” conjures the lushness of major-label-era Death Cab For Cutie.
In Where You Stand’s one not-quite-successful move, “Warning Sign” hews rather close to the laid-back folk/hip-hop hybrids popularized by Jack Johnson. Still, this misstep doesn’t dampen the album’s resilient spirit, which shines through lyrical ruminations on mortality, emotional disruption, facing adversity, and taking charge of a life. In the end, Where You Stand is both a compelling reintroduction to those who grew up (but may have lost touch) with Travis and comfort food for longtime fans.