* * * 1/2 TRAVIS "The Invisible Band" Epic
Travis' lead singer and songwriter, Fran Healy, thinks it's the song, not the band, that is important--hence the album title. But it's the rare group of musicians that delivers music with as much heart and soul as this Scottish quartet.
The songs that will catch your ear first on the album (due in stores Tuesday) are the shamelessly upbeat ones, including "Sing" and "Side," that celebrate life by offering the optimism and melodic sweep of Paul McCartney's most endearing work.
If those tunes form the heart of the album, the ones that represent its soul are more intimate, questioning ones, such as "Dear Diary" and "Pipe Dreams." In "Indefinitely," Healy is haunted by the fact that nothing is guaranteed. "Moments last and lifetimes are lost in a day," he warns.
Producer Nigel Godrich, who also works with Radiohead, has helped the group frame the songs gracefully, mixing electric and acoustic guitars with orchestral and electronic touches in ways that underscore the warmth of the themes.
The imagery is too obvious in places (notably "Follow the Light" and "The Cage"), and there isn't the musical innovation of Radiohead or U2. Yet the highlights extend the promise of the group's first two albums by offering some of the most invigorating slices of feel-good British pop-rock since Oasis' "Definitely Maybe" in 1995.
After a decade in which the dominant themes of rock have been alienation and anger, Travis' gentler and more optimistic approach offers some welcome sunlight. The group joins Dido on Saturday at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.