The Fray, famous for their debut album How To Save a Life, released their much-awaited self-titled sophomore album Feb. 3 in hopes of showcasing their ability to evolve and remain quintessential to the popular music scene. Interviews with the band’s frontman, Isaac Slade, revealed the band was working to break its piano-driven mold. In an interview on Heraldsun.com, Slade says, “We were listening to a lot of harder stuff and quieter stuff, from Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins to classical music. Influence-wise, we stretched ourselves. We wanted to make a record that was different and better but still us.” Slade also talked about making the second album much more of an experience for the listener, not just catchy tunes. He said, “The first record felt more like a handshake, it was so brief. This second one is more a cup of coffee and a chat. The first album was how to get the girl — this one is more how to keep her.”
Everything was revved up and ready to go — an insanely successful first album under their belts, a huge fan base and a single off the new album (“You Found Me”) already on the Top 10 on the U.S. charts and No. 1 in Australia.
Unfortunately, when it came time for the album to take off, there was just some quiet sputtering. Reinventing the band’s sound for a new album is a powerful tactic to keep fans on their toes and interested, and for some performers it works. Christina Aguilera has reworked her look and sound multiple times, but she started with “Genie in a Bottle.” The Fray started with “How to Save a Life.” When artists “find themselves” it is usually followed by a new connection to their music and brings a new spark fans can respond to. In the deflated case of the Fray’s second album, the only assumption that can be made is they found their identity and then chucked it out the window.
The album is not insanely different from their first. The great vocals, soothing piano and universal messages are still present. What’s missing is the stickiness factor. Any track on the old album had that indescribable something that related to many different groups of people. It was the CD your parents liked too. The new album is still beautiful, just beautifully bland.
The standout track, “You Found Me,” is already popular, but it’s hard to see what the group might choose for their next single. The rest of the tracks are pretty, but that’s it. “Ungodly Hour” is probably the next standout, but it is on that softer side Slade explained, which basically ends up being the The Fray’s rendition of Coldplay. Coldplay is great, but is clearly already a band, which leaves The Fray’s new, overly soft side lost in the mix.
Mashed potatoes just aren’t the same without the gravy, and The Fray just isn’t the same without its “it” factor. The self-titled second album is not bad, but it’s not great either. Slade described the album as “how to keep the girl,” proving true that all the fun is in the chase. Hopefully the extreme success of their last album will save the Fray’s “life” and keeps fans around for another album.
2 1/2 stars out of 5.