Can a happy song bring you to tears? Is beauty stronger than force? If you've forgotten that either question sometimes elicits a "yes," The Invisible Band is an overdue reminder that some pop music still runs on craft and emotion, a very good thing indeed. Travis may not be perfect, but they're one of the few remaining bands making intelligent guitar pop in the commercial arena.
The group's last release, The Man Who (1998) was a frantic about-face from their ugly debut, Good Feeling; The Invisible Band displays Travis' confidence by holding fast to Man's blueprint. There's a little more banjo and a little more indie-pop influence, but there's also no denying that "Afterglow," "Dear Diary" and, especially, the new single, "Sing," would have fit snugly on the previous album.
Fran Healy's voice (which recalls a more innocent Thom Yorke) invests the touching melodies with such passion that it's easy to get swept away, but there's less desperation and more joy in his lyrics this time around. On the Kinksish highlight "Flowers in the Window," Healy sings about love's redemptive powers and his faith in its permanence. In the sound-laden "Sing," the only proof he needs from his lover is to hear her break into song in front of him. But it's on the relatively unadorned "Safe" that Healy does his finest vocal work, sounding vulnerable and overwhelmed by his newfound stability.
There are a few quibbles, however. Healy's threat to "bring a gun" on "Last Train" sounds forced and silly. "Humpty Dumpty Love Song" is a saccharine ballad whose droning melody wears out its welcome fast. Most puzzling, Travis left its crowning achievement -- "Coming Around," a Field Mice-like gem released as the first single in Britain over a year ago -- off this record, which means it will probably never see the light of day in America. Despite these minor annoyances, Band is that rare thing: emotional without being mopey. With two albums like this under their belt, Travis needn't worry about it raining on them too much longer.