The buzz: It's not in the nature of anthemic piano rock bands like the Fray to do a vast overhaul of their sound. Coldplay waxed grandiose about last year's Brian Eno-backed "Mylo Xyloto," but when the dust settled it was really just Chris Martin being Chris Martin. This Denver, Colo., based alt-rock outfit has checked off most of the boxes on the bucket list of piano-based pop-rock bands. Their last album, 2009's self-titled release, debuted at No. 1 and produced a Grammy-nominated single; previous singles have appeared in everything from marriage videos and graduation mixes to primetime procedural dramas. The question is: Is this band brave enough to stick with what works?
The verdict: Yes. This is the Fray at their glitziest, tritest and—in a way only possible for these kinds of groups—most successful. Their third studio album is a peripatetic collection of tracks partly based on travels the band members made before heading to the studio, and have all the earnest lyrics and sprawling choruses of patent Fray hits like "How to Save a Life." Highlights include the song most likely to be inundating the airwaves for at least a few more months, indelible premiere single "Heartbeat," the elegiac "1961" and the soaring vocals on "The Fighter." This is a band that should be commended for not pretending to retool a formula that so clearly works.
Did you know? Devotees can purchase the deluxe edition, which includes covers of songs like Bruce Springsteen's Oscar-winning "Streets of Philadelphia." How have the Fray not scored a Tom Hanks sob-fest yet?