Review Summary: The Fray continue plodding down paths already traveled, succeeding in spite of their resemblance to other contemporary piano-rock outfits.
The Fray have never done anything unexpected. They conform to the stringencies of modern pop, carefully tucking themselves into the same corner as soft-rock titans like Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Keane, and The Script. Within those confines, however, it is difficult to say that they have ever done anything conspicuously wrong
. Their music, while noticeably fluffy and inoffensive, is equally if not more contagious. With a flair for poignancy and an undeniable knack for expressive eloquence, The Fray have garnered significant respect within both the alternative and the mainstream communities. It is no wonder then that their latest offering, Scars & Stories
, chooses to defend the band’s empire instead of pushing towards newer and greener pastures.
If a band is to rest in its laurels yet remain vital, consistency is a must. That is one aspect that has never troubled The Fray, and Scars & Stories
continues their trend of refining and honing in on their product. The crystallization of their style is more evident than ever, with crashing cymbals, elated bells, and the occasionally heavy riff to drive everything home. There is once again an emphasis on tune sense, which can be heard from Isaac Slade’s heartfelt (albeit nasally) vocals to the pianos which serve as the music’s steadfast foundation. ‘Heartbeat’, for instance, is quintessential Fray. It features a melody more liberating than anything they have produced since ‘How to Save a Life’, with ooh’s
in the chorus that would have felt right at home on Mylo Xyloto
. While providing a beautiful complement to an otherwise pedestrian electric guitar display, the melodies on ‘Heartbeat’ send Scars & Stories
on its way in an uplifting, almost spiritual mood.
The beautifully crafted harmonies go hand-in-hand with the delicate but agile arrangements that The Fray have become so well known for. ‘Heartbeat’ and ‘The Fighter’ may be more direct and radio-friendly in their approach, but there is still a plethora of diamonds in the rough to be discovered, such as the cascade of sprightly piano notes at the commencement of ‘The Wind’, or the drawn-out, wistful chants of “it won’t be the same” on ‘1961.’ The pianos throughout Scars & Stories
have an elastic feel to them, bouncing all over the album sometimes in a bout of joy and other times in a state of hopeless reflection. If ‘The Wind’ were to be an example of the former, then ‘I Can Barely Say’ is certainly a prime illustration of the latter, with slowly echoing piano notes joined by moving strings and regret-tinged lyrics that cause it to swell with a sense of romanticism. Another likely to be overlooked gem is ‘48 to Go’, whose layered high piano notes, chimes, and bells all ring out together to embody a sense of unbridled delight that is rather uncharacteristic of The Fray’s true-to-form sense of melancholy. No matter where you look though, Scars & Stories
is an album teeming with gorgeous instrumentation and lush balladry that will satisfy both the upbeat optimist and the dejected hopeless romantic.
Scars & Stories
may be nothing more than a pleasant retread of The Fray’s established style, but it does a commendable job of delivering quality in lieu of novelty. Every element of the band’s back catalogue can be found here, polished and presented just
differently enough to give long time fans a reason to get excited. The record starts strong and gets stronger, with some of its best offerings coming at the back end of the album’s run time. The result is a record that, while admittedly comfortable in its lateral movement, continually improves until you feel like you have grown with it. There is just this overwhelming presence of worthwhile material – and a sheer surplus of catchiness – that enables Scars & Stories
to unravel gradually and gracefully. So if a change in approach means looking towards greener pastures, then The Fray stand stubbornly within their established empire – and they deliver one hell of a defense.