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'Helios' is no ray of sunshine for The Fray

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two years ago, The Fray released its third studio album, "Scars & Stories," which saw the band stumble as it tried to explore new sounds. It continues this exploration with "Helios," but where it stumbled with the last album, it absolutely trips on this one.

"Helios" displays all of the flaws with The Fray's music and the band itself. When it decides to take a risk, it either fails or just falls right back into the band's typical sound.

The experimentation doesn't pay off because all the band wants to do is experiment sonically, which just isn't good enough. It also needs to explore other themes in its lyrics to succeed. Unfortunately, it feels like the group is too afraid to do so.

Tracks like the opener, "Hold My Hand," or "Keep On Wanting" showcase lead singer Isaac Slade's genuinely beautiful voice, a voice which lures listeners in to mediocre tracks the way a siren's voice leads sailors to their deaths. His vocals are raw, gritty and packed full of emotion and passion, much like the efforts of his band mates. It's obvious that all the members put their hearts into the music they produce, which is why it's so disappointing that the work is less than triumphant.

The Fray is at its best when it's dishing out the type of tracks it's known for. "Keep On Wanting," along with "Break Your Plans" and "Wherever This Goes" (which is just begging to be played during the final scene of a rom-com), are great ballads that you've come to expect from the band.

The lead single, "Love Don't Die," sounds very different from other songs in The Fray's catalog -- it's very reminiscent of Kings of Leon -- but it's not necessarily experimental material. A prime example of said material is "Give It Away," which can only be described as funky. Yes, The Fray has a song that's "funky," and no, it's not any good; it sounds like something that came from Maroon 5's reject pile.

"Shadow and a Dancer" and "Same As You" are the other two tracks that try to do something new, but just as the new concepts they introduce seem to lift them off the ground musically, their lyrics cause them to nose dive into familiar thematic territory and crash in a fiery blaze of laziness.

It's troublesome that The Fray has to stick to its comfort zone of being a hodgepodge of the artists it tries to emulate (Coldplay, Springsteen, and U2, to name a few) to produce good music. There's no excuse for clinging so tight to familiarity when the band has plenty of experience; it's been almost a decade since it made its debut with "How to Save a Life," and it's released three albums since then.

It seems as if The Fray's music is destined to be nothing but additions to TV and movie soundtracks. What's worse is that the band seems to be content with that fact. Even diehard fans have to be bored out of their minds by now.Album highlights: "Love Don't Die," "Keep On Wanting" and "Break Your Plans"


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