I was introduced to Travis by way of "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?" in early 2000. I rushed to buy "The Man Who" and was completely satisfied with that album. The following year I was first in line to get "The Invisible Band" and was equally, if not more, satisfied. I went back and got "Good Feelings" and was slightly disappointed. "12 Memories" was somewhat disappointing as was "The Boy With No Name".
So, here is "Ode To J. Smith", right on the heels of "The Boy With No Name" a year and a half ago. I'll admit this is a grower. On first listen nothing really grabbed me, but upon closer inspection, several songs began to sink their hooks into me like the album opener "Chinese Blues", "J. Smith", "Long Way Down", "Last Words", "Quite Free", "Song To Self" and "Before You Were Young". The rest I continue to struggle with just exactly how I feel about them.
The sound of this album isn't exactly a stretch for the band. In fact, they still sound maudlin and morose in too many spots. Sure there's hints of "Good Feeling" since the band utilizes more guitars this time out, but really, it's not that much like "Good Feeling".
After mulling this album over all week long, I find that "The Man Who" and "The Invisible Band" remain my favorites. "Ode To J. Smith" is neither here nor there. It's not bad, but it's not great, it just is. I keep wondering if this is it for Travis. I feel they are a talented band that could do so much more, but this is the third album in a row that has been just okay. To me, Travis have the potential to be bigger, but they don't pick great producers and engineers, and the band doesn't seem interested in trying to be more experimental with their sound. They don't seem inspired to push the limits of their particular brand of music.
And that's what makes "Ode To J. Smith" so disappointing. If they did this in two weeks, and this was the most original thing they could come up with, maybe it's time to call it quits. Sure, I noticed a small bit of experimentation on "J. Smith" with the orchestration and chorale segments, but it seemed tacked on, not well thought out. It was interesting for, oh, 30 seconds, and then it was gone.
So, I'm hoping against hope, that the next album bears better fruit. Here's where I place "Ode To J. Smith" in context of Travis's other albums.
1997 Good Feeling: Four Stars
1999 The Man Who: Four Stars
2001 The Invisible Band: Four and a Half Stars
2003 12 Memories: Two and a Half Stars
2007 The Boy With No Name: Three and a Half Stars
2008 Ode To J. Smith: Three Stars