The Fray is a band that falls comfortably in Hornby's second category. They will not shock, frighten or disturb you, your children or even your grandparents. They sound like Coldplay. Every press clip on their Web site compares them to Coldplay. The band members themselves would probably even concede to sounding like the morose Brits, as would lead singer Isaac Slade's wife, the lovely Fwyneth Qualtrow.
In all seriousness, the Fray is a Denver-based foursome founded by lead singer Isaac Slade when he ran into an old classmate, Joe King, in a record store. They then followed, to the letter, the "How To Get Big Guide for Aspiring Musicians." They played tiny venues, built up a following, were voted "Best Local Band" by their local alt-weekly, got played on college radio, attracted national attention and signed on with Epic. If the prevailing appetite for sweet, sensitive piano pop continues to dominate the charts, they might just find themselves even bigger.
The band seems to have a solid platform for expansion. Its latest album and major label debut, How To Save a Life, has stellar production values and has earned respectable reviews from Blender and Seventeen, among other publications. "(Over My Head) Cable Car," the first single, is a good indication of what the rest of the record sounds like: introspective, lovelorn lyrics backed by soaring piano tracks and churning guitars. When the vocals kick in, all the Chris Martin comparisons suddenly become clear; try playing a few tracks for your friends and see if they don't say, "That's the band that did 'Yellow,' right?"
In live performance, the Fray is extraordinarily polished and professional. Ever since they toured as the opening act for Weezer last fall, the members of Fray seem to have grown into their own skins as performers and fly through songs with nary a missed note or technical glitch. Slade manages to make every song sound like it's breaking his heart -- no easy feat, considering that he performs the emotionally draining works every night. They've mastered the art of holding a crowd's attention and make even casual attendees put down their beers and take a closer listen.
A word of warning: Should the Fray get big, liking them will not be cool. This is the type of band that hipsters and punks will mock for being too radio-friendly, too commercial, too easy. These naysayers are the people who think music must incorporate ear-shredding chainsaws to be truly valuable and interesting. To return to Hornby's point above, it is important to listen to music that stretches your boundaries and makes you think. But it is equally important that bands like the Fray exist, to give us something to hum along with at the end of the day.
The Fray performs at the Big Easy with Matt Kearney and Cary Brown on Thursday, Feb. 2, at 7 pm. Tickets are $10. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.