I’ll admit, The Fray is not a band I’ve kept up with as much as I would like. I listened to their breakout singles, “Over My Head (Cable Car)” and “How to Save a Life” a fair amount when they came out, and enjoyed them. I liked the singles from their eponymous second album too (including an interesting Kanye West cover), but I kind of stopped paying a lot of attention to them after that, as did most of the listening public. They’ve kept on trucking, though, releasing Scars & Stories in 2012 and Helios this year. On the advice of my best friend Simone (check out her photography here!), I decided I’d take a listen to the latter album. I literally had no idea what to expect when I sat down to listen to Helios. I remembered that The Fray had sort of a piano rock sound (think Five for Fighting) during their earlier days, and I wondered if they were still sticking to that, or had branched out.
Well, branched out they have, in a big way. This is one of the most sonically interesting albums I’ve listened to in a long time. The Fray experiments with many different textures and forms in an album that holds the listener’s interest from start to finish. Just a few of these sounds include a guitar with shades of a country twang in “Love Don’t Die,” the chant-like intro of “Keep On Wanting,” and a tribal sort of percussion (along with another chant) in the intro of “Same As You.” In particular, I love their use of bass on this album. They take an instrument that usually fades into the background in rock music and thrust it into the forefront effectively. “Give It Away” features a bass solo just after the two-minute mark, and it also takes a starring role in “Hurricane.” Relatedly, the album shows the band showing off a more groovy and danceable sound in spurts, such as on “Give It Away,” which feels like an 80s dance song at times, and “Love Don’t Die.”
Now, the danger of bands experimenting their asses off like this that they could end up going so far afield that the resulting music sounds nothing like them. Fortunately, this is not the case with Helios. The Fray’s classic sound is still on full display here, with the reflective piano sounds of “Hold My Hand” and “Break Your Plans.” They are able to experiment while staying true to themselves, and I get the feeling that all the music comes from an honest place.
Their lyrics fall into two main themes here: a character’s encouragement to someone (presumably female) to open their heart, and the endurance of the resulting love. Some might view this as a lack of lyrical variety, but I think that in this case it gives the album some cohesion that it needs in the face of the revolving door of sonic experiments that take place on it. The songs are also different enough that it doesn’t take away from the album’s enjoyment.
Overall, this is a solid album that definitely shows their maturation and evolution as a band. I would rate this one as a buy it, especially if you’re into their earlier work. Here are my track picks:
“Closer to Me”
“Love Don’t Die”
“Shadow & a Dancer”
*Just click the “Watch on YouTube” links to load the videos in a separate tab and hear the songs. It seems embedding isn’t working again.*