Single Review: The Fray – ‘Heartbeat’

“It’s nice-sounding, inoffensive radio rock for the masses to digest – Heart FM would love it”

3 STARS

Digital Release: January 29, 2012

Physical Release: N/A

If, when Chris Martin’s anguished whinings have long trailed off into the distant unconscious on the closing track of ‘Mylo Xyloto’, you begin to miss him straddle the fence separating masculinity and emotional speak, you could do a lot worse than turn to Isaac Slade’s often equally as tedious and unsuccessful balancing act. The Fray have always struck their ground hard as a something of an American answer to Coldplay (before Coldplay stopped being Coldplay) by almost mimicking the breezy piano-led music and weeping ballads only, stripping back the guitars to nigh-on anaemic state and pretending that the “inspiration” behind every one of their songs stemmed from arguably more heartfelt depths than what became apparent at the time of recording.

Take their new single, ‘Heartbeat’. Isaac’s done well to remove the focus on the piano and swap it for sky-rocketing guitars that succeed in providing an anthemic manliness to a song that is basically any of the eleven tracks that made up ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’. However, if you view the song through Slade’s often pretentiously philosophical scope, it’s a song inspired by him once holding the hands of a war-stricken female stranger so tightly that he couldn’t differentiate their heartbeats. This is a very touching “inspiration” for a song that would otherwise be consigned to the kind of music that would, if released in any other phase of pop music, do very well but considering today, won’t even brush the Top 40. But it only takes a few minutes to Google search the lyrics of any number of similar bands (old Coldplay, Keane, The Script) and you’ll find that equally as “inspired” lyrics feature in almost every one of their songs only, they are just partially-fictitious episodes of lives re-enacted via musical medium. And in some cases (we’ll use The Script as an example), no such fact-based foundation is found to these songs and yet, all the bands are fighting to find room for their overblown, space-filling melodies in places that just don’t want to accommodate them, like the Top 40.

What we have here is very typically The Fray. It’s nice-sounding, inoffensive radio rock for the masses to digest – Heart FM would love it, if they dared sticks their heads out of the ground for a second to look at music outside what’s selling (or has sold in the past) – but for very sprinkling of lyrical sweetness in Slade’s reliably gruff croak, there’s a flavour-bleaching bitterness to mask the taste, leaving an odd sort of limbo where nothing Slade can say really affects you. But that’s not to say that that’s a bad thing; you just hoped that somewhere, after trawling through all that “inspiration” after suffering the disappointing sales of their second album, they would’ve learnt to vary their sound and admit that even if their music is influenced by deeply-felt personal experiences, Slade’s voice just isn’t that good at making it apparent when aligned with songs that are written with no factual context whatsoever.

 

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