I hadn’t heard much of The Fray
untilI I arrived in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for a Ben Folds
concert in late October of 2005. Expecting a lackluster opening act, I was surprised and pleased with The Fray, a foursome who took the stage with a confident yet unassuming set of well-arranged pop songs. After a few minutes, I began to hear the chatter among the college crowd around me: “These guys are really good” eventually became “Wow, I’m definitely going to pick up their CD,” by the end of the their 40-minute set.
In fact, a post-show visit to the iTunes music store resulted in my own purchase of The Fray’s major label debut, How to Save a Life, which was released on Epic in September of 2005. I was pleased to hear the studio versions of songs that were performed so deftly live (even while the lead singer admitted to having a cold). At the time of the show, their single “Over My Head / Cable Car” was finally gaining national radio airplay after high rotation on Denver stations.
At first blush, this relatively new group, formed in 2002 by two high school friends, is reminiscent of the countless pop-rock bands with catchy hooks and half-decent lyrics that reproduced themselves in the late ’90s and early ’00s. The Fray share the fun sound of disposable one-hit wonderbands like Dexter Freebish and Nine Days with the more developed, sustainable variety of groups like Better Than Ezra, Lifehouse, Keane, and Coldplay. If The Fray’s sound and songwriting continue to evolve, they’ll be able to produce multiple radio-friendly hits while also tucking some excellent tracks into the nooks of future albums.
What tips the scales in their favor to suggest a bright future for The Fray? First, their lead singer Isaac Slade brings a talented male voice with the right balance of power and sensitivity. There’s some nuance in his vocals, and he can handle a serious tune without sounding too whiny or over-eager. With a half-arrogant, half-deprecating sensibility, he makes a tenable frontman: charming and cute, yet cunning enough to be a little spritely on stage.
The tracks on How to Save a Life, even those which won’t be singles, aren’t throwaways. This is actually one of those albums that can be played in its entirely without skips. Though “Over My Head” was a great choice for an upbeat first single, the sentimental “Look After You” is also a radio-friendly standout. The title track, “How to Save a Life,” recounts the true story of Slade’s mentoring experience with a teenage drug addict.
While such subject matter can sometimes teeter on trite, The Fray manage to make it work by crafting the sharp yet brooding vocals around simple, effective keyboarding. It wins my pick for most compelling track on the album. Their lyrics, like those of many pop-rock acts, can be a little thin at times. However, the words are strong enough (and occasionally inventive enough) to sound honest. If Coldplay can wow crowds with some of their lyric bromides, then the Fray has little to worry about.
To hear samples from How to Save a Life, as well as tracks from a 2003 independent EP called Reasons, check out the iTunes music store. The band’s official website, which features a road blog along with some happening photography, is www.thefray.net.