CD Review: The Fray

Winning apt comparisons to Keane and Counting Crows, The Fray cannot be described by naming off already existent bands. They are too much on their own.

Hailing from Denver, the pop-rock outfit formed in 2002 when piano frontman Isaac Slade joined drummer Ben Wysocki and guitarists Joe King and Dave Welsh. The foursome gained a local following, packing out mid-size venues, touring first with Weezer and now alongside Ben Folds in support of their September 2005 release.

How to Save a Life is truly a complete debut, offering up radio-friendly ballads as well as darker, sweeping rock anthems. Slade’s insistent vocals open up the album on “She Is,” keys and swirling guitars constantly driving the music forward. The group’s expert songwriting is established at the outset and continues throughout the disc. “Over My Head (Cable Car)” is the perfect radio song. (Its demo climbed the charts in the band’s hometown in 2004.) But radio-friendly does not mean trite for this band – they have a style that permits a singable chorus while still maintaining creative momentum.

From one song to the next, The Fray’s musical fusion is evident. Slade’s vocals, both agonizing and wonderful, have a way of drawing the listener deep into the lyrical tension and keeping him there until the album is complete with track twelve. “Vienna” is hopelessly beautiful at its core, piano-driven and suggestive of Coldplay’s newest material. Slade persists with lyrics that bring beauty to surface from bleakness and angst. “There goes the downpour. Here goes my fare thee well. There’s really no way to reach me, cause I’m already gone. Maybe then honesty need not be feared as a friend or an enemy. This is the distance. And this is my game face.”

An honest yet upbeat track, “All at Once” details every man’s battle to discover love that’s right in front of his eyes, and fight the temptation to run away. “And all at once the crowd begins to sing Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same. Maybe you want her, maybe you need her. Maybe you’ve started to compare to someone not there. Maybe you want it, maybe you need it. Maybe it’s all you’re running from. Perfection will not come.” Slade’s experience as a mentor to a drug-addicted teen was inspiration for the title track, which echoes with salvation.

Enjoyable throughout, How to Save a Life highlights catchy, thought-provoking songs that are all equally a part of the narrative whole. With a debut this strong, you can expect to hear more from The Fray in the near future.

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