The Man Who is the second album from Scottish pop band Travis. The album originally saw release in the United Kingdom in mid-1999, but first appeared in the United States on April 4, 2000. The album totals ten tracks (with three hidden ones after the end of the tenth song) and measures fifty five minutes and thirty three seconds in total length. It was made by Independiente Records and distributed by Epic Records.
This album was a strong departure from Travis's first album, which was much more of a traditional Britpop album, with an upbeat sound and a lot of rock elements. So, when this album came out, featuring a much more downbeat and mellow sound, it took people by surprise, and many of them in a good way. This album was picked as the 1999 album of the year by Q, NME, and Select, and deservedly so, in my opinion.
The best musical acts find ways to mold older styles of music, mixing and merging pieces and ideas and adding their own voice, creating something new in the process. Elvis Presley mixed rhythm & blues with a bit of country and a huge chunk of swagger. The Beatles borrowed from the pop of Buddy Holly and eventually were influenced by nearly every musical genre.
And so the tradition continues with Travis on this album. It borrows from the detached emotions of Radiohead, the britpop sounds of Blur and Oasis, and a strong dose of the various introspective mainstream folk musicians of the 1960s and 1970s (think James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, or Bob Dylan) to build a sound that is absolutely steeped in tradition but somehow has voice of its own. This album manages to construct a new kind of mellow and melancholy mix of pop and folk, a sound that is so familiar, yet beautiful and new.
This album doesn't have complex songs; the music is simple, casual, and mellow. The melodies are very gentle and the lyrics are very introspective and often sad. And somehow the simplicity works and it all comes together, making this album much much more than the sum of its parts.
The album opener, Writing To Reach You (3:41) opens the album with guitar, then drums, then Fran's voice: "every day i wake up and it's sunday..." Fran Healy, the group's lead vocalist, sings with a sense of resignation here, as though he's accepted he's not actually going to reach who he wants to. An appropriate low-key opener to a mellow album, this song was released as a single in the UK, peaking at number 14.
The Fear (4:12), with its mantra-like repeated lines fading out near the end, is all about the fear of being alone and not wanting someone to leave, wrapped up in a melancholic pop song. The drum work is very well done on this track, providing a gently driving percussion element.
As You Are (4:14) sounds a lot like John Lennon to me; it's very reminiscent of Across The Universe to my ears. Regardless, the sad and muted bridge in the middle, featuring some amazingly skilled acoustic guitar work, really ties this one together.
The group's biggest hit, Driftwood (3:33) is one of the three really straightforward pop songs on the album, along with the seventh track. It's less melancholy than the rest of the disc in sound, but the lyrics retain the downbeat tone of the whole disc. This song is just an amazing pop song, with the refrain just biting your mind and staying there; it has a chorus you can easily find yourself singing in the shower or while waiting for the bus.
The Last Laugh Of The Laughter (4:20) is most notable for the fact that the vocals alternate between French and English almost without effort; the words flow together very well.
Turn (4:23) begins the second half of the album on a very pop-like note; this is probably the most pop-friendly song on the disc, reminiscent of some of the better Oasis stuff. It was released as a single in the United States and received some radio play, breaking the top forty for a while in 2000. The single for this song is probably the best way for an average American fan to get a taste of this band; the b-side of the single is a cover of Britney Spears' Baby One More Time made into a wonderful low-key acoustic pop song.
Why Does It Always Rain On Me? (4:25) is easily the most humor-filled track on the album and a good pop song in its own right; it's very reminiscent of Blur's classic song Country House. It was a popular single in Britain, cracking the top twenty for a few weeks.
The eighth track, Luv (4:54) has some interesting layered musical effects, but it comes off sounding and feeling like filler, especially when surrounded with such a complement of strong tracks. The guitarwork is excellent, however.
She's So Strange (3:15) is again kind of humorous, a tale of a decidedly strange female companion who is never quite close enough to really know. The vocal playfulness at the end of the track caps it off quite well.
The album "closes" with Slide Show (18:31, including the three hidden songs), which lyrics that seem to be a reflection on the British music scene, with obvious jabs at the Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, and Beck to be found in the lyrics, and most likely more that I've not picked up on. It's a interesting closer to the album, if you discount the hidden tracks.
The hidden tracks, Blue Flashing Light, 20, and Only Molly Knows (the last two only appearing on the American release of the album), are all pleasant in and of themselves, but they're not part of the album proper, nor should they be. They don't fit with the flow and just seem to be "tracks that we wrote and liked but didn't fit on the album, but we wanted to give them to you anyway, so here you go." They're all worthwhile pop songs, though, and well worth listening to.
This is a very good melancholic pop album. If you enjoy this album, you might also enjoy The Invisible Band, their 2001 album, as well as anything by Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, or the album 13 by Blur.