The Fray releases their third album, “Scars and Stories”

Jennifer Suh

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Grammy-nominated pop-rock band The Fray has just released its much-anticipated third studio album, Scars & Stories. The group’s sound has evolved dramatically from their previous work, a change that comes at the same time as a switch in the band’s producer. The Fray went from working with Aaron Johnson, best known for his previous work with the band and Secondhand Serenade, to Brendan O’Brien, known for his production of big-name artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, and AC/DC, and who has had his name on 14 albums that reached No. 1 on Billboard charts.

Although The Fray has often been referred to as a piano-rock group, like Keane or Coldplay, its new album is full of guitar-driven rock music and only one distinguishable piano ballad, entitled “Be Still,” at the end of the album. Different from the first singles of their previous two albums, “Over My Head (Cable Car)” and “You Found Me,” the first single of this album, “Heartbeat,” does not involve any piano at all.

The main songwriter and vocalist of the band, Isaac Slade, has also changed his vocal style. When he sang his previous hits, “How to Save a Life” and “You Found Me,” his vocals remained simple and clean; however, in “Heartbeat,” it is hard to miss Slade’s intense falsetto during the chorus.

Despite the change in the sound, the lyrics still remain personal to the group, as Slade sings about relationships and life’s trials. During a recent interview, Slade said the band spent most of its budget on traveling in order to find inspiration for new music. An example is “Heartbeat,” which is a story about an expatriate woman he met in Rwanda. Like this first single, tracks such as “1961,” “Munich” and “Rainy Zurich” were also written after travel in Germany and Switzerland.

Perhaps to replace the piano sound, the group appears to have experimented with songs of different styles on the new album. The third track, “Turn Me On,” is a funky rock tune with a Maroon 5 feel and some rhythm guitar, which has almost no resemblance to the old Fray music. The lyrics in this track are not as serious as others, but instead have repetitive and catchy phrases, similar to the radio hit “Moves Like Jagger” . Another track called “I Can Barely Say” first seems like one of the usual Fray-styled piano ballads, but is later accompanied by a string orchestra.

It seems like The Fray is ready for large-scale arena concerts rather than intimate, small-venue shows. Its songs are still very easy to sing along to, but their albums are continually evolving. It will be interesting to see where the band heads as it continues tochange its musical direction.

The Fray will begin their North American tour next Sunday and will perform at the Riviera Theater in Chicago on April 17.

Jennifer Suh