There is an expectation that The Fray has set for its listeners. Whether its goal is to be a top-40 band or not, that’s what the group is. Previously, The Fray released albums with at least two or three hits per record, with the remaining tracks containing powerful piano-rock music.
Scars & Stories
And by the time a rock group gets to its third studio album, its true test is whether it can withstand the difficulty of creating new and interesting material, especially almost seven years later, as in the case of Scars & Stories. The downside to the group writing all of its own material — and this applies for many music groups in general — is that it has to endure the critiques of many listeners about how the material is either too similar or too different.
Unfortunately, Scars & Stories is lacking. The promotional single “Heartbeat” didn’t perform nearly as well as the lead singles for its other albums, and with that song having the most mainstream sound to it, this doesn’t bode well for the success of other singles on the album. The beginning of the song’s chorus also has a brief but uncanny resemblance to the chorus of Coldplay’s “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall.”
Ignoring the album’s potential commercial success, it still misses its target among fans of all of The Fray’s work. Isaac Slade’s voice is perfectly suited for a tone of sadness and desperation, so it complements the group’s heavily emotional music. And while The Fray’s sophomore, self-titled album essentially paints a picture of a person crawling in a corner and crying for hours on end, such emotion is lacking in its third album.
The first few tracks on this album actually have a more rebellious feeling to them, with songs such as “The Fighter” attempting to push back the loneliness that the group typically writes about. “Turn Me On,” which invokes an earlier Gavin DeGraw album, is a major shift to more shallow thinking in the context of love. Joseph King’s “Rainy Zurich” has vocals comparable to The Script’s Danny O’Donoghue. Given all the comparisons, the issue present in the album is obvious. Fans of The Fray expect a reasonable amount of consistency with the group’s music, but the tracks are all over the place. If the band wanted variety in its sound, it probably shouldn’t have waited until its third studio album to flip things around on its listeners.
Despite these critiques, Scars & Stories isn’t bad so much as it’s disappointing. “Run For Your Life” and “The Wind” are solid tracks that embody the usual intensity of the group, while “I Can Barely Say” is the perfect touch of different, with only piano, vocals and the faint sound of a string orchestra. Additionally, Slade uses significantly more falsetto in the song, rather than pushing his lower vocal register. It’s a stylistic change that still expresses the same message the group usually conveys. The quality of this song alone puts the album on the radar.
Based on this album, it might be time for The Fray to swallow its pride and get songwriting or production assistance from a reputable name. Even singer-songwriter genius Adele had help from Ryan Tedder, Paul Epworth and a number of others for her album 21. It depends on what the group’s artistic goals are, but The Fray needs to organize its priorities if it anticipates continuing to work in the music industry.