Some artists fit perfectly into a genre or niche market: pop for the teenage girl, rock for the mid-20s male or classical for the more “refined” older connoisseur. The Fray, however, are unashamedly not among those so easily consigned.
Since their debut album in 2005, The Fray have incorporated a unique mix of piano, guitar and drums to create music that belongs on both your easy-listening radio station and the Billboard Top 100. With such award-winning songs as “How to Save a Life,” “Over My Head (Cable Car)” and “You Found Me,” Through the Years: The Best of The Fray (2016) deserves to be noticed even if it lacks staying power further into the 12-track album.
Like most pop music, the inspiration for The Fray’s music derives from love and loss. But what makes them different is the way they handle such deep adult concepts but without the adult themes. Known as a crossover band, The Fray’s members are all active Christians who decided early on to move away from the Christian genre and into the secular marketplace.
What makes The Fray’s music interesting is that they compose their music to be interpreted uniquely by whomever is listening to it. For example, “Over My Head” is at first glance a story about someone falling out of love (“I never knew that everything was falling through / It’s coming down to nothing more than apathy . . .” ) and it being a lost cause (“Everyone knows I’m in over my head”). But the song is actually about a falling out between the lead singer (Isaac) and his brother, composed from the brother’s perspective. Similarly, “How to Save a Life” seemingly paints a love story that goes south (“Where did I go wrong? / I lost a friend / Somewhere along in the bitterness / Step one, you say, ‘We need to talk’ ”), but Isaac says it is about his experience working with troubled teens, a manual on how to save their lives.
“Look After You,” “You Found Me” and “Never Say Never” are a little more obvious in their interpretations, clearly focusing on love with a significant other. With a simple chorus (“Oh, oh, oh / Oh, oh, oh, be my baby / Don’t let me go, don’t let me go, don’t let me go . . .”), “Look After You” and “Never Say Never” share a message of ups and downs in a relationship (“Falling in and out of love / My heart has started to separate”), whereas “You Found Me” is a much deeper story about the saving grace of love in darkness (“Where were you when everything was falling apart? / You found me, you found me”), probably one of their most direct references to God.
“Heartless” marks a transition in the album, covering a popular hip-hop song by Kanye West. “Love Don’t Die” brings energy with its catchy beat and simple message (“No matter where we go / or even if we don’t, and even if they try / they’ll never take my body from your side / love don’t die”). Their new song “Singing Low” takes it back to the original love and loss formula, accompanied by a slower beat (“So please don’t speak, my heart is havin’ trouble / with the beat, beat, beat, so try to take it slow”).
The Fray had dropped off the radar of mainstream media after their second album in 2009. Since then they’ve released two albums, both of which lacked the impact of their predecessors, and they may be blamed for not changing their style along with current trends. But that may also be one of their greatest characteristics—one of defiance against cultural norms and trends. With the Fray, you know what you will get. Through the Years: The Best of The Fray represents 12 years of consistency—style, content and depth—within their unique brand.
For the longtime fan, their lone new song “Singing Low” should give enough incentive to keep coming back, but to the person yet to discover the magic of The Fray, or just wanting to own their most comprehensive collection of hits, this is a “must” addition.
Through the Years: The Best of The Fray, Epic Records, 2016.