After the relative disappointment of their previous album in the UK with the worrying decision to self-title their second album, The Fray have attempted to return to their roots with this newest instalment, Scars and Stories.
The first introduction to the group’s newest material has come from their first single ‘Heartbeat’ which stays true to their core group of fans, with searching lyrics and remains safely within their comfort zone of middling pop rock for the masses. At first glance, Scars and Stories seems to offer something slightly more refined, placing less emphasis on pianos, and aiming for a more full on, mature version of rock.
Following ‘Heartbeat’ is ‘The Fighter’ which highlights a more darker, deeper and driving sound, resonating through the atmospheric riffs. The catchy chorus aims to be achingly beautiful, and is pulled off quite successfully by Issac Slade’s impassioned soulful voice. Towards the end of the song, the pace slows to prove that the band are still perfectly capable of producing a sound that is reminisicent of the stadium sound that previous tracks such as ‘How To Save A Life’ generated. This added vigour shows elements of REM and also progression for the band, however it does not permeate throughout the rest of the album.
Moving onto tracks such as ‘Run For Your Life’ and ‘1961’, the experience becomes increasingly dry and dull, with a lacklustre rhythm and lyrics that seem incredibly familiar and drone into something forgettable, in contrast to the dynamism first realised at the beginning. Instead, The Fray look to the past and the result means that the middle of the album is, for the most part, nothing new or spectacular. ‘I Can Barely Say’ is the type of moody, down-tempo tack that could be pulled off by contemporaries One Republic but is less successfully so by Slade and company, lacking any meaningful attitude.
Two pleasant deviations from this monotony are ‘Munich’ and ‘Rainy Zurich’. The first is a more energetic, avant-garde track with sparkly layered vibes and soft, poignant hooks and lyrics. ‘Rainy Zurich’ is a slower track infused with the band’s own atmosphere, bringing together a neat and simple melody. It isn’t anything new, but once again pokes its head above an otherwise mediocre album.
Overall, there are some glimpses of innovation, change and new dimensions in the band’s sound such as in ‘The Fighter’, but these are painfully limited to a few songs from Scars and Stories‘ twelve tracks. It’s a less introspective album than their previous work, but the transition is very minor and the band often relapse into a weaker melancholy. Nevertheless, The Fray remain a solid rock group who are sure to keep plugging on into the future, even if that future lacks progress.