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Travis: The Once and Future 'It' Band Returns

After a stretch of so-so albums, Travis returns with its best work since 1999.
After a stretch of so-so albums, Travis returns with its best work since 1999.

For a while starting in 1999, Travis looked like a clear frontrunner in the U.K. pop sweepstakes: That year, the Scottish band's album The Man Who was a critics' darling, with an irresistible batch of bittersweet, hyper-catchy singles ("Turn," "Driftwood," "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?") that rivaled anything by peers such as Coldplay and Oasis. But Travis' star faded in the years that followed, as subsequent discs failed to excite and Coldplay became the "It" band of the moment. When Travis released a best-of (Singles) in 2005, it was easy to assume that the group was finished.

All of which makes The Boy with No Name that much more of a sparkling surprise, as Travis returns with a sharp batch of winning pop songs. Best of all is "Selfish Jean," on which singer Fran Healy disparages an ex-lover over a chiming, instantly memorable guitar hook and a bass line that recalls Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life." It's one of Travis' most overtly rollicking songs, and that suits Healy's acerbic potshots nicely. As lovely as the band's more genteel moments can be — and some are minor classics — it's immensely refreshing to hear Travis claw through the restraints and inject its songs with a bit of fearless energy.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)