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Reviewed by Mike Farley
“She Is” kicks this set off and sets the tone for the whole record with an aggressive melodic onslaught driven equally by guitar and piano. “Over My Head” and the title track are more of the same, and it’s all good. No really, it’s better than good. “Fall Away” is the first slow to mid-tempo track and is musically like a cross between Train and Ben Folds. “Look After You” is akin to “Fall” and if there is one thing to nitpick here it’s that a lot of the songs sound similar - though that’s never really a problem when the material is this strong. “Vienna” is a piano ballad complete with falsetto in the chorus ala Coldplay. And “Little House” uses guitars a little more liberally to create more of an edgy rock flavor, and it’s done masterfully.
The Fray is all about unpretentious rock music, but with the kind of alternative flavor that made bands from the Aware Records camp famous over the past ten years. It’s easy to toot the horn of a baby band that is selling out venues just about everywhere they play as the Fray is, but if you get to check out How to Save a Life, you can’t help but toot horns and anything else that’s put in front of you. This is a 2005 release that is going to wind up on a lot of “Best Of” lists in 2006.
The lead song, "Syndicate," takes exactly 45 seconds to build into a huge chorus, a trick Slade and company can now perform in their sleep. It also does this effectively as a mid-tempo track, as does the next number, "Absolute." "You Found Me" was first introduced on an episode of (you guessed it) "Grey’s Anatomy" back in November as well as on "Lost," and it’s, well, more of the same formula. But the best tracks are the ones in which Slade broods in minor keys while the piano is doing some sort of counter-melody – like "Say When," or the falsetto-laced, David Gray-ish "Ungodly Hour."
What’s missing mostly here is an upbeat track – something along the lines of "She Is" from the band’s debut, because sometimes too much of a good thing is just too much of the same thing. Still, the Fray has found a niche and won’t let go of it just yet, because it’s likely putting the band members’ kids through college and setting them up with boats and summer homes and other things a tough economy makes hard to come by otherwise. And a struggling music industry needs bands like this – bands that know their broad audience, and know that sometimes a winning formula is what’s needed to keep that audience, and to keep music supervisors and programmers smiling.