REVIEW: The Fray – Scars And Stories

the_fray

Artist: The Fray
Album: Scars and Stories
Genre: Alternative rock
Label: Epic

Scars and Stories is, at once, a beautiful and intensely irritating record. This music can be gorgeous, human, haunting, and affecting – and it can also be first class, self-indulgent nonsense. It all depends on your level of tolerance for posturing. There’s a troubling sense that the band use the same airy, evocative style over and over as it’s commercially promising and has an uncanny ability to sound much bigger and more important than it actually is. If you strip away a lot of the pomp and circumstance, these are good, sometimes brilliant songs, but they can lack real substance and depth beneath their dreamy make-up.

It seems unsettled – a lot of the songs are searching and imaginative, the nebulous music tending to reflect these wayward sentiments. Even for this band, who’ve made a name for themselves in producing emotional anthems with a decidedly epic feel, this seems very atmospheric. The band stated during interviews for the record that they decided to travel before recording, using their experiences abroad to inform the music. Some tracks display these influences more obviously than others – “1961” was inspired by the Berlin Wall and has a gentle, aching nostalgia to its exploration of the conflict the Wall represented as a dispute between two brothers. Yet, the rich inspiration the band drew from their travels can’t always make up for the fact that the songs can be uninvolving and dreary.

Oftentimes, the fault can be attributed to vanilla vocals. Isaac Slade sings earnestly, but his vocals are neither rich nor bold. On tracks such as “Heartbeat,” it is the music that adds the necessary bite and resignation, as Slade seems more content to croon aimlessly through desperate, downcast lyrics that called for more gravitas. “The Fighter,” by contrast, opens strongly and celebrates the titular figure with subtle yet exhilarating instrumentation. It’s a brooding and reflective piece with a vivid cinematic ending, and Slade brings an invigorating clarity to his singing that’s far more effective.

The adventurous spirit that inspired the album is obvious in the faint romanticism of “The Wind.” It’s a poppy but searching song, endearing with pensive and evocative lyrics and a tender, uplifting streak in the music. It feels a lot more natural and less self-serving, with a genuinely wistful sense of reflection. “I Can Barely Say” stands out with its fatigued and saddened piano notes. This track opens gorgeously; the piano capturing a wispy fragility and creating a careful yet heightened atmosphere. It’s thought-provoking and elegant, though it does unfortunately lose some of its sparse magic as it evolves. The band demonstrates a flair for understated beauty on this track and in so doing, illustrate why they’ve been so highly regarded amongst the general public. They then courteously follow it with an example of why they’ve divided critics in the flowery, whimsical musings of “Munich” – apparently inspired by the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. The song attempts to be meaningful and relevant but never really makes much of a point.

“Here We Are” has an unusual tenacity. It’s as dreamy and removed as ever, but there are hints of something stronger in the drums and guitars, evoking a sense of purpose and power rarely seen on this album. “48 to Go,” tracing a road trip Slade and his wife once took, is another example of this, possibly the only song opening with a real sense of excitement and thrill. There’s a spark to the music and, obviously, a loving air to the lyrics that lend the track a billowing sense of idealism.

“Be Still” also plays to their strengths, ending the album with the same sparse magic that made “I Can Barely Say” so endearing. It’s soothing and tender, though the piano does become bolder as the song progresses and hints at the resolve and adventuring underlying the record.

Scars and Stories will seize your attention alright, and will linger earnestly in the minds of those so inclined. For others, you may find yourselves enjoying the tracks but unable to escape the feeling that they think themselves a lot more important and wholesome than they’ve managed to be. For others yet, you mightn’t take your music this seriously, in which case the record is a mostly enjoyable and comforting listen, one that makes the most of its source material.

SCORE: 7/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • I’m totally diggin’ “Scars & Stories”. GREAT album by the Fray!! They continue to produce quality music!!