Frank Turner, or frank turner to give him his newly non-capitalised title, has returned. Not that he has ever been away. He is as ubiquitous as a ‘Go Compare’ advert and to many, just as irritating and culturally vacuous. Yet, here we are with album number six and his popularity is showing no sign of abating. The big questions are ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’
Frank tends to wear his heart on his album sleeve. Spending time alone with any of his albums is like reading what a friend has been up to over the last 18 months via Facebook. This usually involves him falling in and out of love then telling us all the gory details in a frantic bid for catharsis. His last offering ‘Tape Deck Heart‘ saw him agonise over the break up of a deep-seated relationship and opened with ‘Recovery‘, a catchy singalonga Frank number about waking up drunk in a stranger’s house and deciding to reconstruct your life. In the 18 months which have passed, you can’t help but wonder what kind of mood we might find him in this time around.
We don’t have to wait long for an answer.
The opening track on ‘Positive Songs For Negative People‘ begins with the simple, maudlin refrain “By the waters of the Thames/I resolve to start again“. Oh great, you’ve done it again haven’t you Frank? Who have you upset this time? Already I am settling in for the usual brand of woe told through a series of fist-pumping, rabble-rousing anthems. However, what follows is seemingly a wave of lyrical positivity, the likes of which I haven’t experienced since I was once locked in a room with Kris Akabusi…but that’s an anecdote for another time.
No, Frank sounds decidedly chipper – “we can get better/cos we’re not dead yet” is followed by “I don’t wanna stay inside/I wanna get outside and face the sunshine” and then the truly cringe-inducing “if we all pull together/we can lift up the weight of the world from your shoulders“. You get the idea right? This is not the Frank we are used to and I am concerned he has roped in Paul McKenna to subliminally raise our spirits following the General Election.
By the time we hit track eight, ‘Demons‘, he can hold it in no longer, “at the truth we have arrived/God damn it’s great to alive” he bellows only for the real Frank to come bursting out of the shadows to sombrely redress the balance with “doesn’t it break your heart knowing none of this will last?“. Yeah Frank, you can’t fool us for long…and then the final fait accompli, “before your demons drag you back“. There, in that one line, is the perfect summation of Mr Frank Turner. This is a man continually troubled by self-doubt, by insecurity and the very same weaknesses that the rest of us face up to every single day. If he wasn’t travelling the world and living out his dream he’d probably be on Facebook every day posting videos of cats and complaining about hipsters.
Then the penny dropped, ‘Positive Songs For Negative People‘ isn’t aimed at you and I. This is a message from Frank to himself, a musical pick-me-up to help mend whoever/whatever has caused his current level of angst. He is Gareth Cheeseman looking at himself in the mirror shouting “You’re a tiger” (younger readers may need to Google that reference).
‘Mittens‘ is the album’s outstanding track but does little to lift the gloom, an unrequited love song with the heartbreak all too evident – “I once wrote you love songs/You never fell in love“. Yeah, there’s not a soul reading this who hasn’t felt like that once in a while I wager. ‘Josephine‘ is a call to arms for any one woman so-named to accost him in the street and offer their undying love to him, simply because he had a dream. The desperation is palpable. ‘Love Forty Down‘ is probably the best (and only) tennis/rock crossover track you’ll hear this year. By now I don’t know whether Frank is happy, miserable or just orbiting the planet Earth.
The album offers a neat bookended melancholy, closing with the genuinely moving ‘Song For Josh‘, an ode to friend and suicide victim Josh Burdette with emotion warbling in Turner’s tonsils.
‘Positive Songs For Negative People‘ is probably his weakest album to date, there is simply too much filler. Turner, now almost universally referred to as a ‘folk punk troubadour’, shares a similar trait to that of his Scottish counterpart, King Creosote. They both produce more material than a back street sweatshop and are in urgent need of a Quality Assurance department. No one can continually churn out a procession of top-notch songs and with Frank there is always the sense that he has to release something in order to head off back on tour before the spell is broken and we see him for what he really is, “a skinny half-arsed English country singer“.
This is why his public love him, this is why I love him, he is one of us. He lives, he loves, he makes mistakes and then he documents it in 45 mins flat. In 18 months time he’ll do it all over again and we will all check in to see how he’s been getting along. Personally, I hope he has his heart broken into a thousand pieces, he sounds so much happier that way.