- reviewed by Josh Hurst Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2009 1 Feb
- You Found Me
- Say When
- Never Say Never
- When the Story Ends
- Enough for Now
- Ungodly Hour
- We Build Then We Break
There's nothing wrong with one band borrowing some of the tropes and traits of another. Art, after all, builds on itself, and some of the richest and most meaningful music is that which builds upon a particular tradition. Led Zeppelin nicked half their riffs from old blues songs, Paul McCartney learned everything he knows about songwriting from old-time rock 'n' roll and British music hall, and even Bob Dylan has been known to borrow a few lines from ancient folk songs.
So the mere fact that The Fray borrows each element of its sound from another band—be it U2's arena-filling swell, Counting Crows' earnest pop, or Ben Folds' piano-based compositions—is not necessarily a problem. What is a problem is the fact that, inexplicably, the band seems to pinpoint the very worst qualities of their influences, rather than picking their greatest strengths. Specifically, they amplify U2's zeal into a humorless earnestness and dull down Counting Crows' maturity and focus into songs that lack any real hooks or dynamics. And worse yet, they combine all these influences in what may be the least attractive way possible, giving this album a faceless studio sheen that downplays what weak melodies they have and puts all the emphasis on singer Isaac Slade's anguished vocals.
And those vocals really typify everything that's wrong here. The way Slade garbles his words with grunts and moans gives the impression that he's barely able to sing through all his angst—he's certainly not having any fun doing this, which is exactly the way the music plays out. Anyone who's heard the band's big, breakthrough single, "How to Save a Life"—and that's pretty much everyone—knows that they have an inclination toward studied seriousness, but at least that song had a strong hook, something you could sing or hum along to. The songs on their new, self-titled album are almost all mid-tempo numbers stuck somewhere between plodding rock and moody ballads. In fact, they are uniform in tempo, sound, production, and their shared sense of joyless, humorless introspection.
And how odd that they chose to make the album self-titled, a move that usually indicates that a band is trying to define (or redefine) their own identity in some way. The music here is so similar to their debut that it's essentially a sequel, and the lyrics reveal absolutely nothing about who the band is or what they value, as the lyrics all trade in vague spirituality that make all their songs sound like they could just as easily be songs about romantic distress as existential malaise. First single "You Found Me" is one of the only tracks that tries to be specific, and here, God is imagined as a man standing on a street corner smoking a cigarette. The singer asks, "where were you?" as he references some unnamed crisis in which he feels like God deserted him, but any spiritual fervor is lost amidst the clumsiness of the set-up and the non-specific nature of the lyrics. The song is just aimless angst, lacking in either focus or artistry—much like the album as a whole.