Last Tuesday, The Fray released their album Helios which follows what many considered to be their best album, the 2012 release Scars and Stories. Unlike my first listen to Scars and Stories, with Helios, I was less than impressed. Scars and Stories was such a strong, cohesive album that it was almost a work of art. Because of high standards set by The Fray’s previous releases, it was expected that Helios would live up to these expectations. Unfortunately, it did not.
It pains me to write this review because I really do like The Fray, but I found Helios disappointing. The main reason this album is such a letdown is the loss of the sheer quality The Fray normally brings to the table. Although it is still obvious that Helios is a Fray album, the newfound use of electronic effects and synthesizers as opposed to real instruments crushes all that was unique about their sound. It’s almost like The Fray turned into a cover band of their own music. Until now their albums have all been a step in a positive evolution of their sound, each one raising the quality and craftsmanship to a new level. However, Helios is a step in the wrong direction.
Despite this decrease in quality, there are still a few songs on the album that are worth a listen. The first is the opening song, “Hold My Hand”; it’s one of the strongest tracks on the album, sticking mainly to their classic sound, allowing the song to easily fit onto any other Fray album. Unfortunately, this song gives the first taste of the more electronic backbeat that ruins the album. “Love Don’t Die” is perfect for what it is meant to be – a radio single: simple, short, upbeat, and very catchy. “Give it Away” strangely enough has a Maroon 5 “Hands All Over” vibe, and also allows our first glimpse into the killer bass that is the backbone to the album. “Closer To Me” utilizes a tinny guitar sound that gives it a distinct and memorable sound, making it one of the best songs on the album. Finally, “Wherever This Goes” is perhaps the most interesting and unique track on Helios. Comprised of only drums and no other instruments under the vocals, it makes for a memorable anthem about clinging onto love no matter what happens.
I strive to be flexible in my beliefs of what a band should sound like so that I am willing to appreciate a new direction in the band’s sound, but by experimenting with their sound The Fray has somehow removed every aspect that made them unique. The truth is there is nothing special about this album. There’s also something crucial missing on Helios that was present on all their previous albums: the stand out, signature slow song. On How to Save a Life there was “Hundred“, on The Fray (self-titled) there was “Ungodly Hour“, and on Scars and Stories there was “Be Still“. So, where is the lyrically breathtaking ballad that is so instrumental to The Fray’s sound? Helios is still better than many albums climbing the charts today, but for the quality that fans are used to getting with The Fray, it’s a letdown.