Scars & Stories by The Fray (Epic, 2012, 45 minutes)
The Fray is an American rock band from Denver, Colorado. Schoolmates Isaac Slade and Joe King formed the band in 2002, and achieved success in 2005 with their debut album. As a band, they’ve remained at the top of the Billboard charts, and have been nominated for four Grammy awards.
When a Musician Is no Longer a Musician
I tried, I really did. I started listening to Scars & Stories hoping that something had changed, that some musical revelation had appeared. But, alas, it didn’t. I’m a big fan of what can be called “musicianship”, and The Fray falls short of this concept with Scars & Stories. Simply put, there’s no growth on this record. Musicians cease to be musicians and just mindless drones when each song sounds the same as the next, and when each album sounds the same as the last.
On my first listen in the comfort of my apartment, the signature “emo” vocals of frontman Isaac Slade were prominent. The first track, “Heartbeat” opens in a power rock theme, and I was intrigued. With lyrics like “I wanna kiss your scars tonight,” however, I was left a little unimpressed due to the teenage, angst-ridden lyrics.
I walked away from the stereo as it continued to pump The Fray through the apartment, did some dishes, and came back to see why the track hadn’t changed. It had changed twice. The band had just “continued” the song with new lyrics in a 4/4 power rock formula that they had previously established in the early 2000s.
In Praise of Something Different
Producer Brendan O’Brien (known for his work with Bruce Springsteen and Rage Against The Machine) has his fingerprints all over Scares & Stories. I think that the overall musicianship of the band, however, leaves something to be desired. While there are some creative instances in the album, the rest of the production falls short. The best track, as far as I’m concerned, would be the song “1961” where there is actually a different drum beat, different feel, layered textures, and some modicum of thought. The piano hits on some syncopated offbeats, which at least creates something new and intriguing.
A producer does want to fashion a signature sound for a band which is easily identifiable, but the sound can become too signature. This is the case with The Fray. The Fray’s original album was something new and fresh, and something that a listener could get into. Over the years, the sound, while still signature, has become mundane. Thus, the sound ceased to be a signature and is now only boring and stale. If bands don’t grow they go the way of Duran Duran, into a state of pure irrelevance and past memory.
Brendan O’Brien tried his best on this one, and I imagine that there’s a sad chance it will dominate the charts because Scars & Stories is catchy. However, I think that the mediocrity that this album provides will leave critics and thoughtful listeners unimpressed. If The Fray continues with this now monochromatic and vapid formula, they will be extinct very shortly.
Verdict: 1 out of 5