Casual Cadenza: The fray of The Fray

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My friend has an interesting habit of sending me clips of Minecraft YouTubers. Some of them are funny, some are just plain loud and others I don’t get. But it doesn’t really matter what I think, since most of their subscribers flock toward watching them on Twitch, allowing them to receive countless dollars with every stream. Despite having never subscribed to these channels nor having participated in any of their streams, eccentric names like Quackity and Sapnap have managed to infiltrate my social media feed, whether that be TikTok, Twitter or even my text messages. 

Am I surprised to say that this week’s column was inspired by a clip of Sapnap singing along to “How to Save a Life” while knocking down blocks in Minecraft? Yeah, pretty much. After listening to the song on repeat for five days and wistfully wishing for the early 2000s soft rock genre to make a comeback, I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly happened to The Fray. 

The band rose to fame only three years after forming — “Over My Head (Cable Car)” and “How to Save a Life” coming out as singles prior to the release of their debut album, both landing in the Billboard Hot 100. “How to Save a Life,” in particular, is their most popular song to date, having peaked at No. 3 in 2006. Then their self-titled album came out in 2009, further accumulating the group’s success and eventually getting nominated for a Grammy. 

It’s no coincidence that I love The Fray. The fact that their top five songs all happen to revolve around incredibly depressing themes is very on-brand for me, considering I’ve made my admiration for sad songs pretty well-known. In short, here are my brief descriptions and opinions of them: 

“Over My Head (Cable Car)” — Suffering from a deteriorating relationship with his brother Caleb, lead singer Isaac Slade was inspired to write a song that never fails to send me into a deep state of distress about the potential fallouts with those I’m closest to. Listening to the lines, “And suddenly, I’ve become a part of your past / I’m becoming the part that don’t last / I’m losing you and it’s effortless,” really puts that scenario into perspective. 

“How to Save a Life” — It’s a song that’s open to many interpretations, the most prominent one being about someone who’s lost a friend to suicide. However, Slade originally wrote it about a student he met at a youth camp who was struggling with addiction. I think its ambiguity is what makes “How to Save a Life” The Fray’s best song. It can essentially be about anything, but the core pro-mental health message is inescapable. 

“Look After You” — Written for Slade’s wife who was living in Australia at the time, I don’t have much to say about this one. With its lovey-dovey lyrics and typical discussion of love and longing, I would say it’s generally good song-wise. 

“You Found Me” — Many speculate it as an example of The Fray’s Christian roots poking through in the form of a hit song. Whether you interpret it as the second half of “How to Save a Life” or an angry conversation with God, you can’t deny its designation as one of the group’s best work. Why bad things happen to good people is probably the most empathetic question out there, making it the most painfully relatable song. 

“Never Say Never” — I like the recurring theme of relational support The Fray tended to lean toward in their early songs. “Never Say Never” happens to be a perfect example of this motif. Being about sharing the burden of tough times, I’d say it’s another possible continuation of “How to Save a Life” and one that’s well-appreciated. 

The group’s departure from the mainstream spotlight can somewhat be described by their own lyrics: “Where did I go wrong? / I lost a friend / Somewhere along in the bitterness.” Only, The Fray didn’t exactly escape stardom in a negative manner — it just sort of fizzled out. They released their third album “Scars and Stories” in 2012 and their fourth one “Helios” in 2014. Both received moderate critical acclaim, with most audiences realizing The Fray had already passed their peak by 2010. 

Now, they’re known as a band that represents pure nostalgia for almost every young person today. As much as I wish for The Fray to return from their indefinite hiatus and deliver another soft rock banger, I think it’s best to consider them as a symbol of sentimentality. Ironically, their continued popularity stems from the fact that most people enjoy remembering their past work, which is proven whenever my friends and I end up singing along to “How to Save a Life” subconsciously. We all long for better, simpler times to come back. Listening to The Fray may not completely fix that feeling, but it’s close enough for comfort. 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of @thefray on Instagram.

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