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 411mania » Music » Album Reviews

The Fray - Helios Review
Posted by Daniel Wilcox on 03.03.2014

My 2014 Reviews:
Ed Harcourt - Time of Dust EP [8.0]
Warpaint - Warpaint [9.0]
Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues [7.0]
Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Wanderlust [9.0]
Mogwai - Raves Tapes [4.0]
Young the Giant - Mind Over Matter [6.0]
You Me At Six - Cavalier Youth [5.5]
Gaslight Anthem - The B-Sides [6.5]
Of Mice and Men - Restoring Force [8.0]
Within Temptation - Hyrda [8.5]
Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long, See You Tomorrow [8.0]
The Rifles - None the Wiser [5.0]
Skindred - Kill the Power [7.0]
Katy B - Little Red [9.0]
The Family Rain - Under the Volcano [7.0]
Clare Maguire - Clare Maguire EP [7.0]
Behemoth - The Satanist [7.0]
Wild Beasts - Present Tense [10.0]
Beck - Morning Phase [9.5]
Issues - Issues [7.0]
Fanfarlo - Let's Get Extinct [4.0]
The Chain Gang of 1974 - Daydream Forever [3.5]
Indica - Shine [5.0]
Grand Magus - Triumph and Power [6.0]
Nina Nesbitt - Peroxide [9.0]
††† (Crosses) - ††† (Crosses) [6.5]
Schoolboy Q - Oxymoron [8.0]
Pharrell Williams - G I R L [7.0]
Silversun Pickups - The Singles Collection [8.0]
The Fray - Helios [4.0]
Kid Cudi - Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon [9.0]

The Fray is:
Isaac Slade – vocals, piano
Dave Welsh – guitar
Joe King – rhythm guitar
Jeremy McCoy – bass
Ben Wysocki – drums

The FrayHelios

Track listing:
1. Hold My Hand
2. Love Don't Die
3. Give It Away
4. Closer To Me
5. Hurricane
6. Keep On Waiting
7. Our Last Days
8. Break Your Plans
9. Wherever This Goes
10. Shadow and a Dancer
11. Same as You
Running time: 42:19

You remember the Fray, surely. Well you might not, because the band's impact on the music industry in the last few years has been minimal at best and non-existent at worst. What you will remember is that piano-driven ballad “How To Save a Life.” You know the one, it's been played in montages on countless TV dramas, was nominated for Grammys and three or four contestant cover it on reality singing shows on a weekly basis. Truth be told, I like that song. Somewhere deep down in the darkest, most secretive catacombs of your heart, you probably like that song too. Sure, it might be Coldplay-inspired, radio-friendly drivel, but it's a little bit cheesy and infinitely catchy and it stays stuck in your heard so you can't help but like it. What I don't like is Helios, the band's fourth album, jam-packed with feeble attempts to re-capture that magic, as have their previous two records.

Maybe I'm being a little harsh on the Fray, who have had some success outside of that track, including chart-topping singles and albums globally. Though the band's relevance seems to have dropped off in recent years, Helios is still on course to be a chart success and I'm sure the band has its share of fans out there and it's actually pretty easy to see why. Isaac Slade and co. are pretty well adept at making accessible soft rock tunes that may be little more than radio-fodder, but they do at least appeal to the lowest common denominator of music fans, the ones who like things that are catchy. “Break Your Plans” and lead single “Lead Don't Die” both feature undeniably bouncy choruses that would surely provide a decent enough sing along if you can manage to lose yourself in the moment. The foot-stomping intro of “Wherever This Goes” is also an uplifting commencement of a fairly uplifting number that features some soothing female backing vocals from an unknown source.

The problem with these tracks, and the vast majority of the rest of them as well, is how damn predictable the whole thing is. With the success that the band has had, you can hardly blame the Fray to sticking to a formula of sickly-sweet pop rock ballads that heavily feature piano chords and simple chord progressions, but it sure would be nice to see the band venture outside of its comfort zone every now and then, even if it was just to dip its toes. “Shadow and a Dancer” is perhaps the closest we get to an experimental track, relying heavily on electronic elements and attempting to go for an epic sounding vocal akin to 30 Seconds to Mars, but the delivery of the track is a bit of a mess and in the end it's a swing and a miss. Besides all that, if the best compliment I can pay a record is for its attempts to sound like 30 Seconds to Mars, you have yourself a problem.

I guess the only thing that sets The Fray apart from other boy bands band mainstream pop artists is their use of instruments. I will give Welsh and King minimal credit for knowing enough to mix up their sound from time to time, and the drumming is all over the place here and in a good way, but it's all a bit cookie-cutter for my tastes. Helios lacks the creativity and diversity of the band's debut record that sold by the shedload in 2005. And vocally, there's not enough there to hold my interest. Slade has quite the soulful voice, but one track sounds pretty much the same as the next. Even if the band does not possess the musical chops to mix it up (though I believe they do), Slade could easily mix things up in tone or pitch just to make one song sound a bit different to the last. As it is, one song runs into the next without much happening in between and we're left wondering when this effort is going to come to an end. There's no life-affirming anthems here, no heart-wrenching ballads on the scale of “How to Save a Life” but perhaps most worryingly, there's nothing that even comes close.

The Fray - “Love Don't Die”

The 411: The Fray is such a middle of the road pop rock band, it's hard to really be too critical of the band. What they do, they actually do quite well. There's two or three big tracks here, ones that will do get a significant amount of radio airplay. The problem lies in the band's lack of ambition – every tracks bleeds into another until Helios is left gasping for air by the album's end. Helios is harmless enough, but it's about as inspiring as watching paint dry and you get the impression that minimal effort went into the making of this one. It's even unclear what the target audience is for this record, as critics seemed to have long-since stopped paying much attention to the band, and it's been years since they had a big hit on their hands. There's no big hit here either, just painstakingly boring, middle of the road wannabe pop anthems that range from tedious to passable to moderately catchy, but putting them all in one place makes for a difficult listen.
Final Score:  4.0   [ Poor ]  legend


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