Britpop bands like Coldplay and Keane owe a huge debt to Fran Healy. With his band Travis, Healy virtually invented the melancholy, melodic sound that took those bands to the top of the charts. Now on his first solo album, Healy isn’t shy about borrowing back. WRECKORDER sounds pretty much like you’d expect the Travis frontman’s record to sound like with tastefully layered vocals, pretty piano, acoustic guitar, and soaring strings. The problem here is the lame lyrics that ultimately make the record seem utterly disposable.
First, the high points: Opener “In the Morning” definitely has a Coldplay-like sound and a forward motion that the rest of the disc lacks. Healy sports a nice falsetto on “Anything,” which has the soaring sweep of some of his band’s hits with perhaps a more intimate feel. Set closer “Moonshine” has kind of a cool groove to it.
Alt-country chanteuse and erstwhile New Pornographer Neko Case turns up for a duet on “Sing Me to Sleep,” which is probably the track to download here. On the chorus, their vocals entwine and overlap in intriguing ways. Case’s presence is welcome on any album.
Speaking of guest stars, none other than Sir Paul McCartney makes an appearance on “As It Comes.” Before you get all excited however, he’s only playing (barely audible) bass guitar on the track, which features a much more prominent piano. Like many of the tunes here, the song itself is inconsequential nonsense.
“Buttercups” sports the kind of arrangement and melody that make you desperately wish Healy had more to say. The lyrics here too are painfully silly. But not even the arrangements are universally strong and tasteful. The stutter-step percussion distracts greatly on the pleasant but otherwise dull “Shadow Boxing.”
Even worse is “Holiday,” which has Healy’s most honest lyric: “I have nothing to say/ but I try to say it with love.” That’s never more true than on “Rocking Chair,” which seems to start off with a nice premise of a grandfather looking back on his life before it devolves into pseudo-profundities and confusion.
WRECKORDER is seldom less than a pleasant listen. But Healy clearly needed to take some more cues from his faithful Britpop followers to create a more substantive record. He has a nice though not showy voice and he’s mastered the art of the melancholy melody, but next time out he just needs to find something worthwhile to say.
Fran Healy: www.franhealy.com