frayEvery couple of years, along comes a mega-successful pop/rock band that has catchy tunes but no discernible identity at all…think Matchbox 20 before Rob Thomas developed a personality. The most recent example of this phenomenon would have to be The Fray. On the back of two mega-successful singles, the Denver-based quartet’s debut album, How to Save a Life, came out of nowhere to sell nearly three million copies. This happened despite the fact that the band had nothing to market themselves with except for their songs-no gimmicks, no outspoken members, no hot lead singer for the chicks to fawn over. Nope, The Fray were the brown paper bag of pop/rock groups…

…and now they’re back for round 2. Their self-titled sophomore effort follows the template set by their debut. Midtempo piano-based tunes with a bit of a rock edge, angsty lyrics, and hooks that are incredily catchy and easy to sing along with are the order of the day. You’ll hear these songs coming out of radio stations and advertising TV shows for some time to come.

First single You Found Me is cut from the same cloth as the band’s earlier hits like Over My Head (Cable Car) and How to Save a Life, only with a stronger guitar sound. The piano isn’t as front and center, and The Fray sounds like an actual band instead of a showcase for tortured lead singer Isaac Slade. Never Say Never will definitely be a future single, with the refrain of “don’t let me go” giving the song a lighter-waving vibe as well as an immediate hook. Absolute is another winner, with a pretty falsetto chorus, while Ungodly Hour is a more spare, almost Tori Amos-like piano ballad. Slade’s fragile higher register is a good fit for this brittle song.

The Fray trips up on account of its’ anonymity. It’s taken me three weeks of listening in order to be able to differentiate songs. Even though the album is incredibly compact (10 songs, 43 minutes), there are 3 or 4 tracks that don’t have anything to separate themselves from the pack. They’re pleasant enough to listen to, but there’s nothing unique about them, and they’re not hooky enough to stand out. Then there’s the issue of Slade’s vocals. While his voice (which occasionally sounds like it’s about to crack) definitely packs an emotional wallop, there’s only so much angst you can take. I also remember reading a review of this album that noted the fact that Slade’s vocals are often garbled. Glad to know I’m not the only person that notices that.

There’s not a lot of experimentation to be found on The Fray, which I guess is a good and a bad thing. Good because they know what they do best, and bad because the songs have a definite similarity to one another-especially because they fall under two tempos-slow and slower. It’s actually nice to hear the band stretch out a little on the album’s final two songs. We Build Then We Break has an anthemic, thundering U2 vibe, while Happiness brings in a gospel choir for emphasis.

At the end of the day, if you dug How to Save a Life (which was a reasonably enjoyable record), you’ll dig this album. The Fray doesn’t exactly have anything exciting going for it, but it’s dependable, radio-friendly pop, sort of like the love child of Coldplay and 3 Doors Down. Much like the band’s debut, there are a couple of standout songs as well as a couple of completely generic ones, and while I recommend it with reservations, I still think it’s a worthy addition to a pop/rock fan’s music collection.