The Fray has certainly kept their listeners waiting over the past three years. Since the release of their 2005 debut, How to Save a Life, their success has been undeniably overwhelming. Front man Isaac Slade told Billboard several months ago that their new self-titled effort is "more extreme" and "spreads the spectrum," and it only seems necessary that they make it so in order to re-engage fans in their music. With the expectation bar set as high as possible, the test has finally come to see if The Fray can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, and ultimately keep fans asking for more.
A band that has always been about both style and substance, The Fray doesn't disappoint in either area here. Opening track "Syndicate" gives listeners a taste of the original alternative/piano rock sound that uniquely identifies the band. Other tracks follow suit, including the mid-tempo "Where the Story Ends" and the low-key "Never Say Never," a song which offers comfort and hope in the midst of an evidently difficult scenario (I will be your guardian when all is crumbling / I'll steady your hand). "You Found Me," the lead single and another huge hit for the band, takes The Fray to a slightly edgier sound. The emphatically deep song lyrics question God through tragedy, while at the same time cling to reliance on Him. Slade writes about the song on the band's website, saying "It demands so much of my faith to keep believing, keep hoping in the unseen… This song is about that feeling, and the hope that I still have, buried deep in my chest." Profound song meanings pervade throughout the record, while the band continues to do something else they're known for - leaving the stories and messages behind their songs for fans to figure out and interpret themselves, which is unquestionably a huge plus, as most bands fail to achieve success in this area.
While criticism was hard to come by on How to Save a Life, we find a slightly different story here. After a three year hiatus, the noticeably short track listing is somewhat of a letdown. While the tracks are not a disappointment themselves, it seems that after a long sabbatical, the mere 10 tracks certainly do not suffice for the amount of time between the first record and next. Another mishap that casts quite a dark shadow over the record is the profanity found in "Happiness," the album's final cut. The line "Happiness d*mn near destroys you" is likely to offend some, and while the line is not being used to curse anyone, it is seemingly unnecessary and puts a mar on a record that could've been near perfect.
Final thoughts, though, are certainly positive. The Fray has managed to stick to their classic roots, which is, of course, a good thing. The band also manages to push the envelope in several tracks with a rougher song style, and it works. Many bands don't recognize that listeners want artists to take risks every now and then, but The Fray has yet to fall into the trap of playing it safe with their music, and here's to hoping they never do. Despite the downfall on one track in particular and the short amount of playing time you'll get out of The Fray this time around, you'll still want to give this record a good listen.- Review date: 1/30/09, written by Logan Leasure of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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