...I would have probably rated this 5 stars. 'Save A Life' spoiled me, and now I'm finding myself somewhat disappointed...probably for no good reason. It just seems like something's missing on The Fray's follow-up album to their instantly-likeable debut. And I think it's because I can't help but compare it to that gem...there's no wonder it was nominated for a Grammy.
I've been enamored by the piano-rock stylings of this group since the very first time I heard "Over My Head (Cable Car)"...and every other song from that album gave me the same reaction...exciting melodies, perfect chord progressions...fresh but familiar. Don't get me wrong, this album is good. It starts out VERY good. The first track, "Syndicate", has a ton of energy with a catchy piano riff, powerful guitars and a great melody. I was smiling the first time I heard it. And my smile grew even wider while listening to the next song, "Absolute". Starting off with guitars, this tune picks up steam and never looks back...it's very dynamic, with the twists and turns that made 'Save A Life's' tunes so appealing. And with its soaring chorus, this song is easily my favorite of this collection, and I'd put it in the same category with the best the debut had to offer.
But it's after "You Found Me", perhaps this album's closest thing to a "How To Save A Life"-type song (with its perfect blend of intimacy and uplifting vigor), that this record starts to turn south. The fourth song, "Say When", starts a little slow but gets better as it goes along...still, there's a noticeable drop-off when compared to the first three songs. "Never Say Never" is a respectable ballad with a very nice string arrangement, but nothing really jumps out and grabs me. Isaac Slades's vocals are good throughout this album, but it sounds to me at times that his delivery may not have quite the vitality of his consistently strong effort from the first record.
"Where The Story Ends" picks up the pace again but is based around a rather simplistic, one-note-at-a-time piano 'hook' section that I don't find too exciting. Then, finally we get around to one more top-notch song, "Enough For Now". A great chorus line sung with much better passion, excellent lyrical content, and a build in intensity add up to a moving, powerful tune. (Actually, I can't knock any of the lyrics on this record...they seem interesting and genuine...I just haven't felt compelled to dig into them yet). "Ungodly Hour" is far from ungodly awful...the line that builds up to the nice falsetto phrasing of the words 'ungodly hour' is actually quite beautiful from both a melodic and lyrical perspective, but the rest of the song doesn't really go anywhere...at least I can see a chance for this one getting better with time. Starting out with a buzzy synth line, "We Build Than We Break" is easily the worst song for me (there weren't any 'worst' songs at all on How To Save A Life). The closer, "Happiness", opens with a nice acoustic guitar accompaniment, and while it builds to a fairly strong peak that includes an impressive choir backing, it fades quietly away (as so does the album), and I'm not exactly feeling too 'happy' about this record.
Like I said, this is not a bad album. There are at minimum four very good songs, and perhaps some of the others will grow on me a bit. But when compared to songs like "Look After You", which didn't even NEED guitars to sound powerful and impressive, to the hauntingly beautiful "Vienna", most of the songs here pale in comparison. By no means should my rating be taken to mean this isn't worthy of purchase. I still recommend this for all fans of The Fray...what I DON'T recommend is doing what I did...stacking this up against 'Save A Life', for then you may be somewhat disappointed, too.