For many listeners, The Fray is forever tied with the television medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy, for their wildly popular 2005 single, “How to Save a Life.” The Fray’s second, self-titled album brings more of what the music fans have come to expect from the Denver quartet: soft, piano-infused songs about love, loss and reconciliation.
The Fray is not anything particularly new, but it definitely has its charms. Lead singer and pianist Isaac Slade adds an appropriately earnest touch to his songs’ lyrics, even if his voice is not distinct. Most of the tracks seem to be designed as inoffensively as possible, leading to soothing (but sometimes boring) songs.
Slade’s piano is featured in most of the tracks with varying degrees of success, but comes through strongly on highlights “Syndicate” and “Where the Story Ends.” The piano intro to “Where the Story Ends” is one of the most memorable parts of the album and will likely stick in listeners’ heads after a few plays.
The album’s production does not always seem to do all of the band’s instruments justice, however. Lead guitarist Dave Welsh and rhythm guitarist Joe King offer memorable performances on the track, “Say When,” mostly because there is less piano in it. It is a shame that Slade’s piano at times overpowers their playing throughout the album. This takes away from the distinctiveness of the band’s songs, which doesn’t do them any favors in the age of digital downloads where albums are harder to sell when a buyer can simply purchase the popular singles.
“You Found Me,” the album’s first single, is a noticeable attempt to recapture the essence of what made their previous singles so powerful. Despite starting with the lyrics, “I found God on the corner of First and Amistad, where the West was all but won,” which is trite and confusing at the same time, the track is passionate with a memorable chorus. It will surely find its way into popular TV shows, especially medical dramas. Even the music video for the song has paramedics and an ambulance, as if the band realizes that it needs to play up its primetime TV appeal.
This strategy of making soundtrack music can seem unappealing; it devalues the artistic aspects of the band by implying that they found a successful formula and want to stay with it. Oftentimes, the formula only works for so long before listeners want some growth. The Fray has the potential to grow but is going to have to take more chances; this album fails to provide noticeably different music.
Giving some optimism for the band’s future work, however, is the track “We Build Then We Break,” which offers a higher energy that is a welcome change from the generally slower-paced fare. More tracks like this could be a change-up making their music more diverse and memorable.
Following up on their debut album, How to Save a Life, which went double-platinum and produced Grammy nominations for songs “How to Save a Life” and “Over My Head (Cable Car),” is a daunting task for any artist, but it is disappointing that The Fray does not try to do more with the sound on this album. It is easy to compare them to an act like Coldplay, but unlike Coldplay’s latest Grammy-winning album, they don’t take enough risks on The Fray to have long lasting appeal.
It seems The Fray could branch out from its involvement with TV shows, but the album comes off as one from a band that is happy to stay in the soundtrack business.