Showing posts with label the fray. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the fray. Show all posts

Friday, February 28, 2014

video review: 'helios' by the fray

Well, this was a disappointment. Guess I understand why critics have thrashed The Fray in the past.

Next up is St. Vincent, and then next week is extremely busy. Stay tuned!

album review: 'helios' by the fray

Let me take you back a few years.

See, back in the mid-2000s the Billboard Hot 100 charts were in a very weird place. Southern crunk was deteriorating rapidly, indie rock briefly exploded before fizzling out, pop punk and the newest incarnation of emo were tearing up the charts, and pop music was in a weird place, either coasting off of slinky R&B in the vein of Justin Timberlake or with crossovers from other genres, like Gwen Stefani building her short-lived solo career away from No Doubt or Nelly Furtado selling out to work with Timbaland and actually making better music for the trouble. 

And it was in this period that a series of bands discovered they could churn out hits making soft, introspective middle-brow material with just a hint of a rock edge, and in 2006 we got a deluge of bands some enterprising critics deemed 'Dawson's Creek rock'. You know the genre, songs that are just perfectly inoffensive enough to be played over long meditative montages where James Van Der Beek wistfully stares off into the distance and cries about something. And in 2006, we got the motherload, with Daniel Powder's 'Bad Day' topping the Billboard Hot 100 list of that year, with a whole slew of acts like Five For Fighting, James Blunt, Coldplay, Snow Patrol, and others surging up the charts. Hell, even Nickelback tried to go in this genre before reverting to their typical brand of meat-headed mediocrity. And to be fair, as much as I like to make fun of this genre (mostly because it's so damn easy), there was quality here, and while Snow Patrol was always the best of the genre (you know it's true), I do wish the boom had lasted a little longer and given adult alternative acts at least a little more staying power before the genre practically evaporated with the club boom with only a few exceptions.

And among the list of bands to explode in that year was The Fray, a band I only find remarkable because of how incredibly accessible they were. Not enough of a brawny edge to fall into post-grunge, yet not soft enough to be dismissed as easy listening schlock, The Fray had a smash hit with their debut album How To Save A Life - despite the fact it wasn't that good and hasn't really aged well. Critics have never been kind to The Fray, and there's a very good reason for that: when you try so damn hard to please a wide audience, you end up losing some unique identity yourself. And while I tended to like their more melodic focus more than most critics, I've never been fond of Isaac Slade's vocals, I've found the guitars lacking in texture, and the lyrics have always teetered on the line between overly earnest and kind of endearing and borderline parody.

In any case, The Fray hit a stumbling block with their second self-titled album, mostly because it was playing in the same wheelhouse with somehow worse lyrics. And after recording a cover of Kanye West's 'Heartless' that completely missed the point, I assumed their careers were over. But it turns out in 2012 they put out a third album Scars & Stones, and while The Fray were touting their ability to stick together, I was seriously wondering if they had forgotten their strengths. At this point, the lyrics were borderline token, Slade's falsetto was painfully weak, and the good melodies had been subsumed under flat guitar lines that were trying to sound big but had none of the personality. At this point, I assumed anybody who was still listening to The Fray had picked up Fallen Empires by Snow Patrol (a much better album) and had put The Fray out of their minds forever.

Well, it turns out The Fray have a new album with a new single that sounded nothing like The Fray I knew, so out of sheer curiosity I picked up Helios. Was it the shift in direction The Fray needed to stay relevant?