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The Fray—How To Save A Life

The Fray, formed by classmates Isaac Slade and Joe King, is an American rock band who broke into the music scene in 2005, with their debut album, How to Save a Life”. This album helped in the reemergence of piano-rock, a genre that was believed to have had its time in the 80’s. But with this highly successful debut, The Fray was able to breathe some life into a genre that had long awaited a messiah to resuscitate it. Faith Christian Academy provided vocalist Slade with drummer Ben Wysocki and guitarist David Welsh, thus completing the quartet.

Over My Head (Cable Car) was the band’s debut single and easily one of the most memorable tracks from the album. It is interesting to note that the band initially consisted of Slade’s younger brother, Caleb, on the bass. He was later asked to leave the band due to differences of opinion, causing a rift in his relationship with his older brother. This fight proved to be the inspiration behind this particular song which talks about a relationship between two loved ones dying out due to a lack of understanding.

“I wish you were a stranger I could disengage”, croons Slade, asking his younger brother whether they can try for a reconciliation. The sincerity in his vocals, the lightness of the acoustic guitar as it sweeps across the lyrics, the rhythmic bass lines and drums that help pick up the pace as the song reaches the bridge, is what helps fans identify this song. The piano embellishments mellow the overall nature of the track, giving it a more mature feel when compared to the usually dark and sombre emo genre.

Dead Wrong, with its strong chorus and backing drum track, seems perfect as the title track to any young adult drama. The track talks about how sometimes we realise too late that we were all wrong. A trademark rhythmic bass line trudges this song along, and it culminates into a very vocally dependent bridge that’s ripe with emotion and sincerity. If Pearl Jam ever went into soft, piano embellished rock, this would be their top pick, with its light yet ghostly feel that stays with you long after the three minutes of this track.

Moving on to the title track, How to Save a Life is easily the most emotional song off the entire album. The song found a legion of fans after it was used in an episode of the hit television series, Grey’s Anatomy. This song has a particular warmth and human nature about it that makes it refreshing and unique. The gentle piano-driven track talks about the singer’s disappointment over not having been able to help his friend, who was dealing with depression. This track later went on to become an anthem for people suffering from such illnesses due to its sober yet startling nature, driven forward by soulful vocals and soft-rock inspired guitar backing.

Look After You, delicate and soulful, avoids ever being or sounding big. Instead, it chooses to swing along with softness. This track was never built for a stadium atmosphere, unlike Coldplay tracks which serve as anthems, but rather it chooses to be a staple in acoustic sets that are more private and heartfelt. The four-and-a-half-minute song never wavers off-topic or loses the listener’s interest, but rather pulls you in with its simple piano-driven melody. Extremely simple and easy to sing along with, the song is built for soulful renditions beside a fireplace. “What’s mine is yours to make your own”, sings Slade in this romantic, carefree track that talks about the honeymoon phase of a new relationship.

All at Once talks about how “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same” ,and how working through the difficulties in a relationship is what makes us human. The lyrics are deep and profound without sounding too church-like. The piano sets the pace for this pop-rock track that sweeps through without pomp or glamour but yet remains with us even after its culmination.

Little House is where the band gets serious and kicks into overdrive. The most rock-inspired track in the album, this song features heavy use of the drums, with the bass guitar refusing to go away quietly. The song addresses suicide and the pain it causes. It chooses to handle the matter maturely, and the guitars never seem too loud like it often does with contemporary rock tracks. This track is proof of how the band approaches serious topics with understanding and thoughtfulness. The piano arrangement is fresh and captures the mood to perfection. It makes sure that the song is emotional without being cliché and sloppy. The wildly abrupt ending will leave the listener with just enough of the track to rationalise and form an opinion of their own.

Trust Me starts off with a heartfelt piano intro that gives way to Slade’s vocals that remind the listener of a young Eddie Vedder. This song will leave you wishing you had taken piano lessons as a kid. This song also highlights the band’s characteristic featurethe fact that they write beautiful lyrics, honest and meaningful. The words are sure to stay with you long after the piano strikes its last chord. The arrangement goes so well with the lyrics that it captures the band’s soul in a way so profound and genuine. This track is also a testament to the band’s faith in God and their Christian values and roots.

The U2 influences are most prominently heard in the track, Fall Away, which again relies heavily on the piano. It is safe to say that this track is piano rock done right. A very 80’s inspired track, this one would surely light up Bono’s face if he were to hear it. The long drawn out turn-around and guitar embellishments add a touch of progressive rock to this heartfelt track that talks about how the past is a dangerous place to live in. The song is catchy, and the arrangement is done in such a way that the listener is drawn into the song as it progresses.

Maybe the biggest issue the band faces is that, in an attempt to weave together the twelve songs of the album, they may have made them too similar, leading to it being difficult to distinguish one from the other. The track She Is, with its piano intro, light chorus, and over-emoted vocals, sounds a lot like Dead Wrong, another one of the twelve tracks.

This might prove to be the coming undone of an otherwise fantastic band who have been successful in putting together a comprehensive debut that helps define their music. One can even hear a little bit of Anthony Kiedis in these tracks if the right amount of attention is paid. The music is clean, well-produced, and definitely well-written. If the band can find a way to reinvent themselves with each track and add something new to their repertoire, then nothing can stop them from being a staple Top 10 band with a legacy.

Though they picked their name out of a ballot box in which fans were asked to jot down suggestions, The Fray live up to their name. Their songs deal with problems we face in life, and how sometimes those problems can weigh us down causing frays in our relationship and faith. With a sound reminiscent of British neo-rock bands like Coldplay and Keane, The Fray were able to imbibe their music with a new wave of freshness, coupled with deep lyrics that evoke a sense of humanity and empathy within their listeners that helped them carve out a space of their own in the industry. With piano ensembles and sing-along choruses like Coldplay, slick sound and deep lyrics like that of Counting Crows and Wallflowers, along with a sense of honesty and emotional maturity attached to emo bands, The Fray really does give its fans the best of all worlds.

It is safe to say that this album is more than the sum of its tracks or the instruments in it, but rather an album for the poets and lovers of literature. The album is more like a collection of stories put together in such a way that it impacts the audience for the better, inspiring them to do better, and be better. There is a fine line between crass and soulful, and The Fray stay on the right side. Serious yet emotional, the songs are well-crafted and produced. The lyrics are heartfelt and expressive without sounding preachy. The confessional nature of it helps the audience relate to the tracks that address serious problems that our society faces. So, this one is for the jaded souls who feel misunderstood, for all the underdogs who felt like they didn’t have a voice. How to Save a Life might do exactly what it proclaims with its intense and thought-provoking story-telling.