Their debut album charmed audiences with its honest lyrics and warm piano melodies, and lead singer Isaac Slade’s unique, gritty voice demanded the attention of listeners of all ages. Now, with their self-titled sophomore album, The Fray does it all over again.
The album opens with “Syndicate,” an optimistic track that equally utilizes piano and guitar. “Absolute” speeds up the tempo a bit, and while the verses are somewhat tense, the pre-chorus slows things down before gently swooping into a beautiful chorus.
A quiet piano riff introduces “You Found Me,” one of the album’s singles. Despite the hope implied by the title, Slade’s lyrics are almost bitter: “Where were you when everything was falling apart/All my days were spent by the telephone, it never rang/And all I needed was a call, it never came.”
“Say When” gives listeners a taste of Slade’s vocal range as he sings about love and war, but in the following track, “Never Say Never,” he truly lets loose.
From the first piano note, you just know it’s going to be a sad song. In the chorus, Slade proves that less is more—he sings “Don’t let me go” over and over again, but his voice is so driven and emotional that you feel his words every single time. A brief bridge gives away to a blazing combination of piano and guitar, and then Slade’s vocals come alive. He repeats the chorus three more times, constantly building the intensity and tugging at your heart strings until the song finally dissolves into a peaceful last chord.
The pleasant melodies in “Where the Story Ends” give listeners a breather, and the track ends with Slade singing faintly in the background. This turns out to be a preview of the next song, “Enough for Now.” Though the lyrics in each verse center on family problems, Slade belts out the chorus with a strong energy that gives the song an inspirational vibe.
“Ungodly Hour” begins with soft drums and piano, and is sung by backup singer Joe King. His voice is gentle and soulful, and one can’t help but wish he had more songs on each album. The track’s subdued tone makes it perfect for easy listening, and even has a John Mayer-esque solo to finish it off.
The next song, “We Build Then We Break” has a more desperate, eerie tone, its lyrics hinting that someone might be trying to hurt someone close to Slade: “I don’t know you, but I know what you did to her/She told me, and I happen to believe her too…You’ve been quiet, there are things you do not speak of/But if you stay gone a little longer, your keys won’t work”. The band shows off its impressive guitar skills with an almost constant riff in the background, Slade continues to show off his range.
“Happiness,” at nearly five and a half minutes in length, listens like two different songs put together. First are earnest vocals from Slade, backed by a quiet acoustic guitar as he attempts to explain happiness with beautifully poetic metaphors, which are made all-the-more meaningful by Slade’s disregard for rhyming. After a brief pause, the song changes direction. Piano replaces the guitar, and steady bass drum beats slowly grow louder as Slade sings “She will be home.” He is abruptly joined by the rest of the band at full force, and there’s even a church-like choir in the background. He repeats the line several times, and the addition of the choir makes for a truly powerful climax. Finally, everything but Slade and his piano goes silent, and he slows to a graceful stop.
There are songs on every album that you hear on the radio nonstop, but sometimes it’s the not-so-popular ones that make the biggest impact. So ignore those iTunes popularity meters, because with brilliance like “Never Say Never,” “We Build Then We Break,” “Ungodly Hour,” and “Happiness,” The Fray’s newest album deserves to be heard.
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