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“Scars & Stories,” the newest album from alternative rock band The Fray, delivers an immediate emotional impact as the title suggests, but perhaps one time too many.
The Fray seems enamored with humanity in its most exhilarated state. Just like the band’s 2008 smash hit, “You Found Me,” each song on “Scars” finds itself at the zenith of a person’s emotional capacity, where life has been forever defined by a new relationship, a broken love or even a historical event. And that is entirely fine to a point, because the band presents these moments with a sense of emotion that feels anchored by personal events.
That emotional heft has also been generated by their musicianship. The Fray’s signature piano-centered instrumentation, complete with earnestly plucked guitars, booming drums and lead singer Isaac Slade’s mercurial voice with its unusually high range, is bound to fill every inch of any arena in which it plays.
Their expertise with dynamics, the change between high and low volumes, sways the tone within each song. While not as pervasive and intense as its use by the fabled alternative band Nirvana, tracks such as the first single, “Heartbeat,” which opens with a careening texture of sounds that softly transitions into a quiet bed for the stanza, empowers the lead vocals more than a constant backing track: “You gotta love somebody, love them all the same/I’m singing, oh, I feel your heartbeat.”
Such is the case for the majority of “Scars,” as each song feels like a carefully extracted dose of concentrated melodrama delivered straight to the vein, perfectly suited to grace the adult contemporary stations or to play at the end of the latest chick flick.
That is not a slight to each individual song, however, which sound fine on their own, but an entire listen through is enough for the album’s dour mood to overstay its welcome. The song “1961,” about the harrowing relationship between three brothers, is one of those that registers: “We’re broken, we’re battered/we’re torn up and we’re shattered.”
Emotionally charged pop songs such as these certainly have a time and place, but the effusive force with which the listener is blasted makes the tender piano respite “Be Still” a finale that sounds more graceful compared to its predecessors. And the formulaic, three-to-four-minute structure of each track only guarantees the long occupations that these songs could have on the charts.
“Scars” does not go as far as leaving a visible wound in a listener’s ears, but some damage has been done and may build from ensuing listens. As singular, booming periods of ecstatic overdrive akin to the endearing track “48 to Go,” the songs on this album generate the feelings they aim to create. As a multitude, however, this song cycle can leave more than a few nerves frayed.