Travis' second album, The Man Who, is an immaculately crafted piece of mopey, codeine-slowed jangle that was purchased by 97 percent of the Scottish population upon its release. Subsequent albums yielded a lower balance of good ballads to self-pitying dreck, but until now, Travis has never gone back to the "All I Want To Do Is Rock" virus that unwisely kicked off its career in Britpop's wake. Ode To J. Smith shoots for "edgy" and "rocking," but winds up sounding like latter-day Oasis. Lead singer and songwriter Fran Healy has always had a chip on his shoulder about the perception that Travis somehow isn't cool, but there's no solution to that problem in typically watery lyrics to songs whose titles ("Friends," "Broken Mirror") tell the whole story. The lyrics to "Long Way Down"—"Mama… I'm too young to die!"—should theoretically get the band a little closer to Queen, but no such luck. The atmospheric slow-burner "Broken Mirror" fares only slightly better; it's all prolonged guitar tones and light hi-hat tapping. Blissfully short at 37 minutes, Ode To J. Smith is the sound of a band too boxed-in to do the hooky melancholy it used to do so well, but too neutered to really rock out.
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