Ah, The Fray. Massive in their native USA and big over here, the Denver-based quartet’s 2005 debut How To Save A Life was one of those slow-burning successes that before you knew it was all over the radio like a bad rash. Actually, to be more specific the title track and Over My Head (Cable Car) were all over the radio. And so they should have been, as both were stonking soft rock sing-alongs that marked The Fray as the American version of The Feeling.
If we are being brutally honest here (and the death of John Martyn compels me to be), there was little of substance on The Fray’s debut album apart from those two tracks. It is one of those albums that blurs into the background as you’re doing your daily chores or supping a skinny latte in Starbucks.
The big question is whether Isaac Slade and company can add a frisson of excitement to their eagerly anticipated (by their loyal fans anyway) second album. Firstly, the band has opted for a resolutely mid-tempo approach that is dangerous in the wrong hands. OK for Coldplay, but lesser mortals run the risk of falling into the Train trap. Remember them? A brilliant single (Drops Of Jupiter) and then nothing else.
The Coldplay comparisons are all over this album. The opening Syndicate opens with a piano tinkle before a burst of rock action briefly diverts the attention, and then we land back in soft rock limbo. Absolute is another track that briefly threatens to intrigue before the lumpen drums and Slade’s raspy white-boy soul vocals drag the song down into frigid MOR territory. OK, the single You Found Me is next. Surely a cracking tune a la How To Save A Life is in the offering. Sorry folks, it’s another plodding soft rock non-entity that attempts to tap into the same ‘gee life is tough but we’ll get through’ vibe that HTSAL cracked (and that was the least interesting thing about that song).
And that basically is that for this thoroughly professional, exquisitely produced, and utterly soulless album. Track four is called Say When, by which point most listeners will be echoing its sentiments resolutely. Points of interest? Never Say Never and Ungodly Hour are the band’s closest approximations to the big Coldplay piano ballad, but without Chris Martin’s quirky Englishness (and I never thought I would say that) both tracks ultimately collapse under the weight of their conceits. Where The Story Ends even has the cheek to nick the melody of How To Save A Life, while the album’s one attempt to stray from The Fray blueprint (We Build Then We Break) just ends up sounding messy.
The album plays out with the acoustic strains of Happiness, but any nod to a non-Hollywood ending is ripped apart when the song segues into an utterly ridiculous and over-the-top mess of rock guitar and gospel vocals. The Fray: remember them? They released a couple of decent songs once.