Even when Frayed at Both Ends isn’t peddling Lewis’s particular propaganda, it’s a mostly turgid, mediocre affair.
In July 2021, Aaron Lewis released “Am I the Only One,” a conservative protest song about how the world has gone crazy because Confederate statues have been pulled down and Springsteen hates Trump. Lewis thinks he’s tugging at heartstrings, but he just sounds like a whiny middle-aged male who wants the world to remain static. It’s quite an easy song to dunk on: the lyrics are trite, shoving in references to the flag and freedom wherever possible, and the melody is awkward — “the red and white / and the blue” is delivered as if the latter color is totally divorced from the flag. In general, it just doesn’t sound great, and even for those who don’t vehemently object to every word falling out of his mouth — this writer included — his vocals do nothing to impress.
Prior to the release of Frayed at the Ends, Lewis described the album as “saying things that need to be said about how people actually live,” a quote which indicated Lewis was ready to drop more conservative truth bombs in an effort to own the libs. Had he followed that impulse, it would’ve made the album more interesting at least, offering listeners meatier material to react to. Instead, the album is one long, turgid bummer, a record about how life is hard and lonely. That’s not necessarily bad fodder for a record, but when the songwriting is as generic as Lewis’s, it makes for an intensely boring listen.
Aside from “Am I the Only One,” there are two other “political” songs. “Everybody Talks to God” begins with a real r/ThatHappened story of an old man praying in public, only to get shut down by a mean ol’ atheist who tells him off for believing in a myth. Said atheist gets his comeuppance at the end when he’s killed in a car wreck and has to have his own conversation with God. It’s all a bit hamfisted, to say the least. Far more effective is “They Call Me Doc,” a song about a veteran returning to a country that doesn’t care about the hell he’s been through. Lines like “you’ll never know the heartache of looking a grown man in the eye / when he asks you ‘am I gonna make it?’ and you gotta lie” are incisive and heartbreaking, and speak to a legitimate concern for veteran care in America, but sadly such moments remain few on the record. (It’s worth noting that this song sports a co-write from an actual veteran, which may be why it’s so affecting.)
The rest of the album is redundant and dull. Songs like “Pull Me Under,” “Kill Me Like You Love Me,” “Sticks and Stones,” and “Goodbye Town” try to take on the same shade of heartbreak, but with little to differentiate them. There are lines about “goodbye roads,” “angels,” and “whiskey” scattered throughout, blessed with no sonic variation. With over half the songs clocking in at four-plus minutes, Frayed becomes a slog that is difficult to care about if you are not already invested in Lewis’s POV and/or career. Perhaps the most fitting song on the record is the confused “Life Behind Bars,” a song comparing his chosen life of music with prison. “No jail, no bail, and hell, no parole” Lewis sings mournfully, as if his musical career is a life sentence. It’s a weird metaphor, particularly if we’re supposed to understand that as a musician he likes music. Then again, an album as mediocre as Frayed at the Ends demonstrates exactly how much he cares about his craft in the first place.
Published as part of Album Roundup — January 2022 | Part 1.