Sound — 9
The Fray is a fairly famous pop rock band from Denver, Colorado. When they released their first album in 2005, they were an immediate, overnight success. Their album was certified double platinum and their first two singles charted in the top ten around the world. Their sophomore, self-titled release debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart when it was released in 2009 and their third album debuted at #4 on the same list in 2012. "Helios" is the fourth release for The Fray. Whose lineup has remained steady since 2003, before they released even their first album.
First of all, this band is real. They may use autotune (I can't tell) and they may use a couple of electronic synthesizer type instruments here and there. But for the most part, this band is real (meaning they could've existed before computers and/or MIDI). The reason I am so quick to point this out is that The Fray sounds exactly like a boy band (if you think I shouldn't be surprised, I've never listened to the band before). They write songs with infectious choruses that are meant to appeal to girls who can't recognize the same chord structure from the last hit they heard. Though The Fray may not have as much fame as other boy bands, they are able to sound more than decent with real instruments.
Most importantly, what makes The Fray unique is their diverse musicality, so to speak, and the fact that they sound really good because of (not in spite of) the fact that they use real instruments. There are easily discernible melodies, riffs, and drum beats on this that all sound catchy. Of course, bands from yesteryear could succeed only by using real instruments, so The Fray is certainly not the first band to write good pop music without electronic MIDI or synthesizers. Notwithstanding the aforementioned fact, this album is a refreshing change of pace from One Direction and Justin Bieber.
Unlike most pop albums, the music on this one is surprisingly diverse. Turning from pop to funk to rock and back again, from fun to deceptive to cute and back again, the music keeps the listener on his/her feet and keeps the album from falling into obscurity and boredom after a couple of tunes. The surprisingly fresh production of the album also acts to keep the album interesting; it even caused me to listen again to some parts to hear the effect brought on by the superb production.
The guitar alternates with the piano and/or synthesizer in terms of being the main instrument in a song. The guitar work itself is simple but also effective. For the most part, it consists of triads played on the top three strings and power chords played on the lower strings, all moving in predictable progressions. Guitarists Joe King and Dave Welsh manage to be more creative with their axes than most pop guitarists do by mixing and matching their tones (electric, clean, acoustic, etc.). Moreover, even though their technique is mediocre, they are successful as guitarists on this album because they know exactly what techniques to use and when to execute them.
The drums are the most diverse and exciting part of the album, in my opinion. While they use MIDI some of the time, they are still real enough to satisfy the traditionalist part of my musical attitude. Drummer Ben Wysocki always seems to use the right mix of dynamics and taste to contribute to the sound of the songs. There really isn't too much to say on this front except that the drumming is excellent.
Lyrics — 7
The vocals of Isaac Slade are soulful; you can really hear his breathing and his emotion. However, Slade relies on this technique too much. Even though his voice is powerful and moving, it loses its appeal after two or three songs because, unlike the music, it doesn't vary that much across the album. The teen girl appeal is certainly there; that's what it sounds like The Fray cares about most. As a musician, the lack of variation quickly bored me; it's a good thing the music stayed interesting.
As a side note, the vocal harmonies were well thought out and well executed. To add the cherry on top, the producer did a first rate job of placing into the mix said harmonies.
Lyrically, there isn't much meaning to speak of. Slade still uses the good old universal ideas of growing up, breaking out of societal norms, and of course, girls. But to me, Slade doesn't change the age-old shtick enough to keep it from getting boring. Here's an example from the start of "Love Don't Die":
"If I know one thing that's true
It ain't what you say, it's what you do.
And you don't say much, yeah, that's true.
But I listen when you do.
A thousand years go by
But love don't die."
Still, Isaac Slade has a nice voice, a voice that has doubtlessly contributed a large amount to The Fray's success.
Overall Impression — 8
As far as pop albums go, this album is one of the best I've heard in a long time. The ability of The Fray to synthesize different genres and vibes yet still maintain a catchy, boy band, party-like atmosphere is without equal. And behind the somewhat teenybopper lyrics, there's some decent rock music to be found, even a guitar solo or two.
The best message I can give regarding this album is that you shouldn't immediately discount this band and this album just because you know your Belieber sister is listening to it. There's some great music on here.