The Fray’s Helios: an Album Review

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200px-2.5_stars.svg With the commercial success of their past albums, the Fray’s newest project has been buzzed about in the music world for a while now. While they have always been labeled as an “alternative” rock band, their lovesick, catchy melodies give off more of a “pop” vibe, allowing their past to albums to break into Billboard’s top ten. However, the release of their single “Love Don’t Die” showed a bit more edge than previous records, making alternative junkies eager to hear what the rest of Helios had to offer.

I’ve always been a big Fray fan. After downloading their single, “Over My Head (Cable Car)” as a free download on iTunes way back in 2005, I was drawn to their catchy, piano pop rock sound. The Denver based band is beginning to stray from that iconic sound. Helios feels as though it embodies the Fray’s attempt to transition from the safety of the pop world to a brand more their own. While I support their attempts to separate their sounds from the “mainstream,” the mixed nature of their newest album made it more of a confusing amalgam than a coming out party.

The album’s opening track, “Hold My Hand,” is starts out with a classic Fray piano riff paired with a safe, familiar chord progression that reminds the listener of almost any other song they’ve released before. In fact, many of the songs could be mistaken as re-released tracks. “Closer to Me” incorporates every aspect of their other songs that have shown success; let’s just say the band didn’t take any risks on that one.

Many of their tracks show a hint of what might be to come. By incorporating more of an electronic, edgy sound, The Fray is clearly trying to become more unique. But many of these attempts ended up sounding like other bands from their genre. The song “Hurricane” could’ve come directly of Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto. In a way this is a compliment; Mylo Xyloto, while disliked by many true Coldplay fans, was referred to by many critics as the band’s most ambitious album. “Hurricane” shows the glimmers of a more ambitious side, but by the end reverts back to the catchy love-sick Fray that sounds oh so familiar.

My top tracks on the album are those that showcase the new direction the Fray is beginning to go in. The album’s single, “Love Don’t Die,” strays from the ballad formula of their previous singles. It starts off with an upbeat catchy guitar riff, escalating to a chorus filled with strong beat, clapping, grit, and lead singer Isaac Slade’s strong vocals. The single successfully showed a fresh new side of the band without losing sight their “brand.” The other song that gave us a taste of a new side is “Shadow and the Dancer,” and electronic, mellower track that is very different from anything they’ve done before. The electronic instrumentation and soaring background vocals give of more of a “Killers” vibe. The track evokes emotion and again highlights Slade’s impressive vocal ability.

The album is enjoyable, and for those who are okay with hearing more of the familiar but lovable Fray sound, I would highly recommend it. Overall, however, I was disappointed. After hearing the album’s single, I was expecting a new, more unique record, but found myself listening to tracks that I felt I had almost heard before. What’s more disappointing is that some of the songs show traces of the sound I was hoping for, but instead of sticking to these risks, the Fray reverts back to the safety of catchy piano riffs and familiar pop chord progressions. The album feels more like a mix of separate songs than a cohesive unit. It goes from classic Fray ballads to almost 80s sounding electro-pop to Coldplay-mimicking love songs. There is an upside to the confusing nature of Helios, however; if the glimmers of a new sound are a sign of a new direction the Fray is headed in, I’m excited to see where they go with it.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars