Album Review: The Fray, “How To Save A Life” (2005)

It’s amazing how our memories work. Sometimes, all it takes is a breeze blowing by, or a whiff of someone’s cologne to take us back into a vivid image of our past. Personally, a lot of my memories are linked to songs. Good ones and bad are instantaneously brought back to life once I hear a few bars of a song that reminds me of that time. Last summer was probably one of the best of my life; I made some great friendships, had some wonderful experiences, and just enjoyed life. Every time I listen to Over My Head (Cable Car) all of those amazing memories come rushing at me in full color; my perfect summer plays in my mind like a movie, and that song is the soundtrack.

All of this definitely spurred my decision to buy The Fray’s debut album How To Save A Life. Certainly, the album that included my favorite song of last summer would be nothing short of perfect, right? Though the Denver based piano rock band has certainly seen a ton of success due to the aforementioned single, I’ll admit that the first few listens of the album left me feeling disappointed. While about half of the disc is filled with beautiful melodies and thought-provoking lyrics, the rest of the album is filled with songs that are surprisingly dull and unoriginal.

The album begins with She Is, an upbeat guitar-based song. Lead singer and pianist, Isaac Slade comes in during the first verse, and we’re introduced to his voice. While I wouldn’t credit Slade as being an amazing vocalist, he has a very smooth tone and his voice is always nice to listen to. Likewise, the song itself isn’t anything too remarkable, but isn’t offending enough to turn off. The obvious lyrics (“She is everything I need that I never knew I wanted”, makes up the chorus) don’t make up for this fact, and provides a lackluster start to the album.

Over My Head (Cable Car) follows, and despite all my professed love for this song, I honestly can’t explain why it’s so amazing to me, simply besides the fact that it makes me think of this summer. The song is terribly catchy; the bouncy melody, sing-along chorus, and the lovely piano made the song an easy radio hit (and a staple on VH1). Or perhaps it’s the lyrics about seeing a friendship die (“I never knew that everything was falling through/That everyone I knew was waiting on a queue /To turn and run when all I needed was the truth/But that’s how it’s got to be/It’s coming down to nothing more than apathy/I’d rather run the other way than stay and see/The smoke and who’s still standing when it clears”). Either way, this song is the perfect pop hit, and I can really never grow tired of hearing it.

The album’s second single is How To Save A Life a slow paced ballad that first got recognition from being played on commercials for Grey’s Anatomy. The track is another of my favorites, and here is when we really discover the songwriting talent of Slade and Joe King (who also acts as the band’s guitarist). The song was written based on Slade’s personal experiences as a youth counselor at a camp for troubled teens, and his sincerity is apparent in the lyrics. Lines in the verses present a picture of a concerned friend, while the chorus (“Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend/Somewhere along in the bitterness/And I would have stayed up with you all night/Had I known how to save a life”) explain the feeling of failure when you’ve felt as though you’ve given all you can but still couldn’t help. Musically, the song is just as poignant, with a beautiful piano based melody and a catchy drum loop. Besides having a very personal attachment to this song, it’s simply a wonderful track and one of the albums’ standouts.

The Fray 2014

The tempo picks up with All At Once, another guitar and piano heavy track with a catchy chorus. However, the best line of the song lies in the refrain- “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same”. Fall Away is another ballad, though this time tackles trying to escape your past, and the combination of Slade’s smooth vocals and the earnest lyrics (“You made up your mind to leave it all behind/Now you’re forced to fight it out…/You fall away from your past/But it’s following you”) make it another favorite. Heaven Forbid continues the slow pace, and turns out to be a song about being alone. Though the song doesn’t seem to go anywhere musically or lyrically, Slade’s voice is actually the highlight of the song; he works out his upper register during the chorus (sounding reminiscent of Coldplay’s Chris Martin) and makes the song worth listening to.

One of the album’s stronger tracks is Vienna. The song begins with a gorgeous piano interlude, before fading into the first verse. Though the track, about the end of a relationship, again draws Coldplaycomparisons, it’s definitely not a bad thing. Little House is a fast paced rock song that seems a bit out of place among the more subdued tracks on the album, but strangely works well.

And, as for the rest of the album? Well, it’s nothing much to take note of. Look After You tries to go places that Over My Head went, but isn’t catchy or written well enough to replicate its predecessors’ charm. Hundred is a dud lyrically, but may be one of the best tracks on the album musically. The ballad is highlighted nicely by the piano, and Slade’s vocals are again pleasing to listen to. However, the song still lacks something to make it stand out. The same could be said for Dead Wrong, which gets everything, well, wrong (okay, pun intended!). From the derivative melody to the boring lyrics, the song doesn’t seem to have much right about it.

The album ends with Trust Me, another ballad, though this time a bit bland. The song isn’t entirely bad, but sums up most of my problems with the songs on this album; it simply lacks anything to make itworth listening to.

How To Save A Life isn’t a bad album by any means, and The Fray has made a decent debut on all standards. I’ll be waiting to see which direction they choose to move into with their next album, and it’ll be nice to see how they grow as artists by their next release. Until then, I’ll always have my memories of last summer and Over My Head to keep me satisfied.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. She Is
2. Over My Head (Cable Car)
3. How To Save A Life
4. All At Once
5. Fall Away
6. Heaven Forbid
7. Look After You
8. Hundred
9. Vienna
10. Dead Wrong
11. Little House
12. Trust Me

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFRkpvvop3I]
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