They’ve been popping up like wildfire nowadays: folk/pop songwriters that sing with a quasi-profound, heart-on-sleeve air. They attempt to affect a “deeper” musical experience than the typical Top-40 radio fare provides, and yet somehow end up making it to the Top-40 anyways. Of course, this approach is nothing new to The Fray, who have built a career around songs like “How To Save a Life,” an anthem for Kiss FM listeners trying and/or pretending to have a refined taste.
The Fray released their most recent offering, Scars and Stories, on February 14. Accordingly, the lyrics to the first track, “Heartbeat,” probably played in the heads of many earnest young men taking their dates out to a nice Valentine’s dinner. The song describes a couple riding at night through the rain in the back of truck bed and an admonition to savor the fleeting joys of life and love (I can just imagine a high school sophomore singing along to this song while tagging her friends in a photo album entitled, “Live. Laugh. Love.”)
I shouldn’t be so hard on the band. There are some light moments dispersed here and there. After “The Fighter” chugs along for about 2 minutes and 30 seconds, the song quiets as the band fades, evoking elements utilized by bands like The Rocketboys. As the momentum builds again, the key shifts higher but is matched with a low note on the piano while lead singer Isaac Slade sings, “The lover held her love / She begged him not go.” He continues, “Somehow they both know / He’s not coming home,” keenly capturing the emotional intimacy of a couple that has mutually realized the end of their romance.
And it is refreshing to hear any artist convey the beliefs that shape their art, like the band does in “Be Still”, even if they do try to inconspicuously mask what they are really talking about (Do they really think the listeners are not going to pick up on who’s talking when it says, “When darkness comes upon you / And covers you with fear and shame / Be still and know that I am with you”?), all the while denying any allegations of being a “Christian” band.
For as many eye-rolls and dismissals one might suffer in the company of high-browed hipsters when name-dropping The Fray, it is difficult not to move, albeit reluctantly for some, when their songs play. That’s probably the point.