Friday 26 April 2013

Clandestine Classic XXXIV - Closer

CloserThe thirty-fourth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

What comes to mind when you think about Travis? Chances are it's their pajillion-selling and semi-ubiquitous second album The Man Who or maybe it's only marginally less successful third, The Invisible Band. Or maybe you have a festival memory of hoisting an umbrella into the air as the band played their biggest hit, Why Does It Always Rain On Me? What I very much doubt it brings to mind is today's clandestine classic, Closer, a 2007 single from the band's fifth album, The Boy With No Name.

There's a good reason why, of course. Firstly, the band's fourth album 12 Memories had been a little too political, a little too angsty for some. Then drummer Neil Primrose jumped head-first into a shallow swimming pool while on tour in France. Breaking his neck, he almost died due to spinal damage. If not for his bandmates, he also would have drowned. Serious stuff, I'm sure you'll agree, and more than enough reason for the band to drop out of circulation for a while. The trouble is, dropping out of circulation for a while is a bit of a crime these days, and Travis's lazy-hack-muso-journalist title as "the next Radiohead" was snagged away by Coldplay and Keane, both more than capable of shifting product to the Radio 2 crowd.

They did return though, and in 2005 they were drafted in as last-minute replacements for Morrissey at the Isle of Wight festival. In need of a warm-up gig at short notice, and with no album to promote, they played a crowd-pleasing greatest hits set at UEA, and one of the the highlights was a world premiere of a new song, Closer.

All the Travis trademarks were there from the start - Fran's fragile vocal delivery, deceptively simple chords, the solo that almost isn't, the twisted lyrical themes of love (unrequited), loss, heartache. Most of all, of wanting to be loved. In other words, a return to the familiar, non-political territory of albums two and three.

Today's classic is probably the most commercially successful of any that I've featured thus far - it peaked at number ten in the UK singles chart. But it's still clandestine, in my book, just because it's so far down the list you think of when you think about Travis. Besides, it seems like a good time to be talking about them - after an amicable hiatus and solo outing from Fran, the band are back (back! back!) with new material to promote and a new album in the offing.

In the meantime, you can find today's classic on the aforementioned The Boy With No Name, as well as the solid-gold Singles collection. Alternatively, naughty boys and girls may be interested in this, in which case you ain't seen me, right? And then there's always YouTube - I do love a video that steps outside of itself, if you know what I mean? If you don't, you will do after watching this. Cheers.

Footnote: yes, thanks, I'm fully aware that "semi-ubiquitous" is a bit like being a little bit pregnant. Cut me some slack, eh...?

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