Release Date: Feb 7, 2012
Record label: Epic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, American Trad Rock
"I wanna kiss your scars tonight," Isaac Slade sings on "Heartbeat," a hope-rock anthem inspired by a visit to Rwanda. If it were a Lonely Island parody of an earnest rock band it'd be kind of funny. Unfortunately, the Fray are terrifyingly serious. Six years since their hit "How to Save a Life," they're still pumping American-Coldplay ballads full of sky-groping choruses and symphonic rushes.
The Fray have always received a bad rap. Much like their soft rock, Adult Contemporary-chart-topping counterparts, there really isn’t much the Denver outfit could do that might earn them at least a shred of credibility. Allowing Grey’s Anatomy to use one of your tracks as its theme song has a tendency to do that. Maybe if the band had decided to lend a few choruses to House, for instance, some of the flannel shirt-wearing, Bon Iver-rocking kids at the cool table wouldn’t be so dismissive all the time.
Upgrading to Brendan O'Brien, the producer who came to fame via his work with Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam, the Fray have never sounded better on record than they do on their third album, Scars & Stories. It's not that they've changed their template -- they still rely on a chilly, atmospheric blend of Coldplay's balladeering and Rob Thomas' rock, tempered by a dash of the urgency of 3 Doors Down -- but O'Brien helps them articulate their ideas, giving them definition and muscle, attributes that are appealing when the songs lack distinct hooks. Certainly, this shimmering, assured pulse assists the Fray whenever they don't have a song as compelling as "How to Save a Life," and if they rely a little bit too heavily on O'Brien's incomparable skills, it is a maneuver that means Scars & Stories will satisfy most Fray fans.
Why so serious, Isaac Slade? His soft-rock hitmakers’ third album contains warbling references to the Berlin Wall (”1961”) and Rwanda (”Heartbeat”). Though with lyrics about love and rain and things never being the same, he could’ve just written another love song. Even producer Brendan O’Brien (Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young) can’t save Scars & Stories from generic TV-soundtrack mediocrity.
When rock guru Brendan O’Brien walked in the door, the piano went out the window. The Grammy-Award winning producer helmed The Fray’s third effort, Scars & Stories, and it shows with the Denver-based quartet’s biggest, most-produced and boldest album yet. The Fray struck gold in 2005 with the chart-topping “Over My Head (Cable Car)” and carved a name for themselves with their painfully honest piano-ballads.