Music

The Fray: Helios

The Fray are a talented band, but album number four yields mostly more of the same.


The Fray

Helios

Label: Epic
US Release Date: 2014-02-25
UK Release Date: 2014-03-03
Amazon
iTunes

The Fray are occasionally a painfully earnest bunch. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. What Helios does prove quite admirably is that they still have a knack for turning that quality into uplifting not-quite-Coldplay pop rock. This quality is sharpened throughout with just a bit of edge to keep things from descending into schmaltz.

This alchemy opens the album well with the echoing piano that introduces "Hold My Hand". Things don’t stay subdued for very long, and by the 1:08 mark the piano is right back at the front, albeit with an urgent, layered beat that is classic Fray sound to the core. They take next track "Give It Away" in a direction that is very atypical for this band. Album after album have seen them dabble in balladry with solid rock chops. That’s what makes "Give It Away" so strange. Is it a Maroon 5-aping stomper? Is it a light-funk jam? It is those things and more, and yet lyrically it’s still a Fray song by the numbers. Once again, nothing particularly wrong with that. And truly, it is nice to see a bit of variation from the classic formula.

The snippets of sounds on this album that threaten to sound too much like their peers in the music industry occasionally do them a disservice. "Hurricane" has a musical structure that sounds just a bit too close to Coldplay if it were blended with a bit of Matchbox 20 styled rawness. Meanwhile, "Keep on wanting" treads dangerously close to U2 territory. Whether these particular sounds are a good or bad thing to emulate is all in the opinion of the listener. But whichever way the listener might lean on that subject, it doesn’t play to the Fray’s strengths when these similarities are too glaring.

Speaking of things that the Fray is all too well known for is as easy as listening to "Wherever This Goes". It is a song made for closing your eyes and imagine the romantic comedy it will be featured in. Whether as a plaintive send-off over the closing credits or inserted into a pivotal scene within the movie, the image is clear. Not that they always miss the mark with songs like this. As much as "How to Save a Life" was overexposed, when it was used effectively (say as how it was used when included on an episode of Scrubs) that particular Fray song worked, and it worked well.

Album closer "Same as You" tries to branch out a bit. The guitars are still there, but largely tuned down to let an almost trip-hop sounding beat provide the backdrop. The lyrics are still classic Fray (again), but it feels too close to home. They start to take a bit of a risk, but slide right back into their comfort zone, and it still sounds like a typical Fray song even if it isn’t quite rocking along the way a typical Fray song would.

The bottom line is that the Fray is too comfortable doing what it does. This comfort results in pleasant pop rock with accessible lyrics that are easy to digest. The disappointing thing is how slight moments of innovation appear for fleeting seconds only, then disappear into the ether. It suggests a band that is capable of so much more, if only it wanted to try.

6


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.