The Fray – Scars & Stories
Since The Fray’s formation in 2002, their music has straight-tracked its way into public consciousness and mainstream success. Despite being marketed as an alternative rock band, catchy numbers such as How To Save a Life and Over My Head, have rocketed to the top of America’s Billboard charts and have featured as soundtracks to a proliferation of American dramas including Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill and The O.C.
It’s a shame for the band then, that this positive response has not been shared with the hundreds of music critics, who reviewed their first two albums with The Guardian’s Caroline Sullivan referring to How to Save a Life as ‘a porridgey, guitar-led conservatism’. ‘Moribund’, ‘exceptionally strained’ and ‘uninvolving’ have also been words used to describe the musical endeavours of the Colorado-based foursome.
I find it strange when such an overwhelming accolade of negativity can make you actually root for a band. So, when face to face with their third record, Scars and Stories, I can say with every inch of truth that I examined it with an open mind—something their worldwide success would appear to warrant.
On my first listen, the American tinged, ‘emo’ vocals of front man Isaac Slade hit home immediately. The opening power ballad Heartbreak, chimed with an unmistakable similarity to their previous releases that all prior accusations of being a ‘poor man’s Coldplay’ rang ever more true. Suffice to say, the lyrics ‘I wanna kiss your scars tonight’ added the final dash of insipidness that justified earlier criticism.
If you’ve been living under a stone and The Fray’s Grammy Award winning exertions have passed over your head, imagine a sound akin to Counting Crows meets My Chemical Romance. The Fighter—an angst ridden ballad Slade apparently wrote about a Norman Rockwell painting—is undoubtedly catchy, but also painfully predictable. This band appears to recognise a formula which has had them propelled to MTV screens for the last decade and seem resistant to budge.
The competencies of the acclaimed producer Brendan O’Brien, known for his collaborations with Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Rage Against The Machine, are certainly evident in Scars and Stories. Munich hints at funk and electro, while Rainy Zurich is ethereal and atmospheric. These undoubtedly mark a departure from the band’s previous albums imposing piano and anthemic chorus lines.
Assessing The Fray’s back catalogue, it’s clear that Slade’s songwriting aptitude can easily be called into question. However, conviction is one thing we can’t deny the band. We would have to have a heart of stone not to, on some level, commend the singer for writing about personal experience with the honesty and raw emotion rarely observed in contemporary pop music.
While I can only assume that chart domination will ensue for this album, I also predict an abundance of critics riling protestations at another display of mediocrity in today’s music industry. Whether or not bad reviews even matter for the band is uncertain. There is one thing we can be sure of: The Fray are hell-bent on staying put.
Watch the video of lead single Heartbeat here