The Fray

The Fray

Epic, 2009

http://www.thefray.com

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/16/2009

The Fray is one of my not so guilty pleasures. Their songs are impossibly hooky, heartfelt enough without being too sappy; I did deride their debut, 2005’s How To Save A Life, for being too same-y throughout, but that was before hearing their self-titled sophomore album, which finds itself drained of even Life’s slightly bland brand of catchiness.

While earlier Fray singles “Over My Head (Cable Car)”, “Look After You,” and “How To Save A Life” found themselves propelled forward by more compelling lyrics and some lovely soundscapes (Dave Welsh’s rich lead guitar work, Ben Wysocki’s unshowy but solid drums), the material on this disc seems to blend together, consistently held down by vague lyrics and a noticeable lack of resonant choruses.

Lead single “You Found Me” is jammed full of signature punchiness -- a soaring chorus, singer Isaac Slade’s throaty, lovelorn vocals, and shimmering guitars -- but overall it still breaks less ground than even some of the lesser cuts on their previous disc.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Somehow, though, by sheer virtue of The Fray’s splendid power-pop workings, tracks that are technically mediocre still end up being palatable. Opener “Syndicate” is pretty empty lyrics-wise (“Don’t ever forget / We haven’t lost it all yet / All we know for sure / Is all that we are fighting for”) but Slade’s raspy, endearingly imperfect vocals are easy to get lost in and the instrumentation very nearly reaches anthemic, even if it’s missing some substance.

About half the music here follows this blueprint: Slade asking Big Questions (“Is this all we get to be absolute?” on “Absolute,” for example), slow-burning instrumentation, and a lot of random platitudes thrown in (nothing’s as grating as the philosophizing on “Say When,” which ends up being a pseudo love ballad and a half-baked political statement all in one).  

I hate to hate The Fray. How To Save A Life still gives me that warm fuzzy feeling, even if it’s not boosting my indie cred in any which way; “Look After You” will always remind me of a lovely boyfriend and the title-track recalls one of Scrubs’ most stirring moments. But this album tires out its welcome by the fifth or so track, collapsing under the weight of its own attempts to be profound and universal. It falls into a rut and never climbs back out, save for moments of experimentation on closer “Happiness,” a nice acoustic moment that strips back the ornamentation, and “We Build Then We Break,” which unexpectedly ends up working mostly by daring to stray from formula. It’s built on thrumming, chilly drums and stabs of guitar, which give the track a rockier yet still atmospheric feel, aided too by Slade’s distorted vocals.

The Fray isn’t breaking any new ground, although it still will probably do well roping in new fans with some well-placed product placement (something about The Fray just screams rom-com or a poignant Grey’s Anatomy moment). There are still moments to love here, but unfortunately they’re few and far between. 

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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