If you played a drinking game with The Fray’s latest album and took a shot every time they sang about love or hearts, you’d be on the floor by the third song. So, sure, they’re not the most inventive of groups. But since their illustrious debut, 2005’s How To Save A Life, these Denver, Colorado pop rockers have been churning out hits and television soundtracks with the best of them. And for good reason: few bands do an earnest, soaring power ballad like The Fray. Snow Patrol and Keane have fallen by the wayside for the most part, and Coldplay actually gets points for trying to re-invent themselves with each disc.
So while the material on Scars And Stories definitely doesn’t differ much from their previous self-titled album, and it unfortunately doesn’t reach the heights of their debut, there is still some good stuff to be found here. For one, lead singer Isaac Slade has an endearingly distinctive voice, reaching for the rafters with passion. They may not be revamping music any time soon, but at least they’re putting their hearts into it at every turn. The band’s harmonies and instrumentation is as tight and melodious as ever, thanks in part to production by Brendan O’Brien, who adds in a thicker, more rock flavor to some of the songs (near the tail end of the album, “Here We Are” is a standout with its churning drum beats and decisive chorus).
Starting out with lead single “Heartbeat,” which is classic Fray with its propulsive beats and love-struck chorus, Scars And Stories only gets better as it goes along. Inspired by a Norman Rockwell painting, “The Fighter” can get a little cheesy lyrics-wise, but the chorus is lovely in its simplicity, especially when delivered in Brock’s pitch-perfect falsetto. Upcoming single “Run For Your Life” is instantly radio friendly with its jangle of bells and sweeping energy.
There are some real gems here if you take the time and don’t mind a couple clichés along the way. For one, “48 To Go,” which tells the story of Slade and his wife getting hopelessly off course on a road trip to California, is so charmingly delightful with its upbeat guitars, chimes, and bells; it’s a nice change if all you know of The Fray is the piano-driven melancholy of “How To Save A Life.” Meanwhile, “1961” and “Munich” take on some new territory for the band, the former being a description of two brothers at the Berlin Wall. Though things of course never get too political (“Munich” in particular is kind of a dubious title, though the song itself is beautifully crafted), it’s interesting to see the “stories” part of the album’s title come into play.So, while The Fray’s latest isn’t going to offer you anything too different from their previous releases, or from albums like A Rush Of Blood To The Head or The Script, for that matter, there is still enough heart in this collection of songs to make it worth a listen. Within their own genre, the band is reliably eloquent and endlessly polished. Whether you’re hopelessly romantic or dejected in love, there’s something for everyone on Scars And Stories.