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Critical Voices: The Fray, Scars & Stories
Isaac Slade, the lead singer of the Fray, claims that Scars & Stories, the group’s latest release, embodies a “more aggressive” lyrical approach to their music. This might seem strange, given that the group is known for its roots in Christian rock. And while the lyrics do sound more emotionally charged than those in albums past, the band’s continued use of piano as the lead instrument diminishes the potential effect of their newly powerful verses. In spite of this loss of lyrical potential, this new album is the Fray’s most successful LP to date.
Though the band’s members had previously agreed to stray from the righteous path of Christian music after their 2005 debut How to Save a Life, the influences of the album have survived through the years. “Here We Are,” for instance, features an appeal to a higher power: “I’m going back and forth / Show me where to begin.” But the song switches its tone when the band introduces darker lyrics; like a number of the other songs on Scars, it contains the repeated line, “lay your body down.”
This theme of wandering to no certain destination and an awareness of an inevitable end often relies on references to Europe and the conflict of the Cold War for effect. “Munich” and “Rainy Zurich,” for example, deal with crumbling walls, emotional turmoil, and the occasional hope of love in times when “everything is black and white and grey.” The more aggressive nature of Scars becomes especially clear in “1961,” a power ballad telling the story of two brothers on opposing sides of a personified Berlin Wall. An electric guitar, which often renders the piano inaudible, does the most to differentiate this track from the rest of the album. Since Slade’s signature use of falsetto, while lending a unique quality to his vocals that emphasizes the emotion in the lyrics, fails to allow more powerful tracks like “1961” to stand out from the slower ballads like “Be Still” without changes in instrumentation.
The ideas expressed in Scars & Stories are by no means new to the Fray, but the added historical context and a more informed use of instrumentation truly bring out the best in the band’s traditional messages. Capitalizing on strengths revealed in their two previous LPs, the artists of The Fray have released a more complete and unified album, even if it doesn’t live up to its “aggressive” claim.
Voice’s Choices: “1961,” “48 to Go”