Yesterday marked one year since the release of everyone’s favorite English, Riot-Folk, alt-country hero Frank Turner‘s latest album Positive Songs for Negative People, released through Xtra Mile Recordings. Proudly and relentlessly having crawled through the mud and the muck of the underground punk scene since 2005. After his departure from the English post-hardcore band Million Dead, Turner has pioneered (some would petulantly say popularized) a sound built on a breed of Crass style “fuck you” candor with the relatable Springsteen-esque conversationalism, usually wrapped up in a catchy, Buzzcocks lunchbox or a thoughtfully orchestrated Dylan-ish progression. With such a broad spectrum of sounds and principles, most find it hard to avoid the charming hooks and concepts that it spawns. Having meandered through music and rooted itself in so many genres, the aforementioned sound has created a vast network of Frank-o-philes and has ultimately led to the release of six full-length studio albums. With each album, Turner’s acclaim has grown exponentially, with 2013’s Tape Deck Heart going as far as nibbling at the edges of mainstream radio with the inarguable hit “Recovery”. With no surprise to anyone, such success comes stained with the all too familiar backlash attached to any aspiring crossover punk artist, and that of course is the ever-present and oh-so-very touchy veil of “selling out”. With the equally talented, and nouveau king of pop-rock, Butch Walker at the Producer’s helm (having prior success producing Taylor Swift’s Red), the album has the potential to churn out new fan favorites while concurrently creating more defectors.
This years “Positive Songs for Negative People” has, vaguely put, created a splash. For some, it’s a flirty and inviting swat of water prompting everyone to jump into the pool and lounge around on inner-tubes and enjoy the sunshine, and for others it was a blind-siding cannonball that got everyone wet, doused the grill and ruined the barbeque. The opening track, “The Angel Islington”, is a hollow continuation of Tape Deck’s Heart’s “Broken Piano”, picking up back at the Thames River. Along with that clever little writing trick, a stripped down, live tone gets you excited, but alas, the song goes nowhere. Instead it’s filed into a folky filler song, of which Frank has few, yet they do exist. “Angel…” is followed up with the hopeful, rabble rousing “Get Better”; a song that will surely be a moshpit-inducing staple in Frank’s faster sets. Though catchy and fun to blast in the car, one can’t help but catch a bit of Gaslight Anthem’s “American Slang”, but fuck it, it’s punk rock, The Ramones did it all the time. Frank get’s a pass on that one. “The Next Storm” keeps the hope afloat, ending on the head-butting exclamation “I’m gonna’ step out and face the next storm”. Riding the coattails of “Get Better”, the buoyant message and up-tempo feel keeps you bobbing your head enough to not really care that it doesn’t really fit Frank’s typical brand of songs; you take it for what it is and have fun. “The Opening Act of Spring”, is much more reminiscent of something you’d hear off of Frank’s third album “Poetry of the Deed”. Long time fans will love this mandolin driven folk number strewn with remorse and desperation, with just enough edge to drink beer to. However, the same certainly can’t be said for “Glorious You”. Walker’s influence bleeds through on this poppy runaway. Simply put, this isn’t a Frank Turner song. The diehards and no-matter-whaters will love it, but those that are looking for the candidness and clever word play that they’ve grown to love will be sorely disappointed. The second single on the record, “Mittens”, follows in the same vain. The lyrics are forced and the melody should have been left for Tay-Tay to sing. As genuine and heartfelt as it might be, it leaves the listener wanting something else, or maybe nothing at all, especially as a single. As soon as you think all is lost, you’re brought back with the hard hitting, stand alone punk song (there’s at least one on every album) “Out of breath”. Frank’s spitfire vocals are befitting to the title and the rolling piano adds the image of an old west saloon shootout. You’re sucked in from the get-go. Then we get to “Demons”, a song highlighted by the victorious battle cry “At this truth we have arrived, god damn it’s great to be alive”. It’s a truly optimistic sentiment for anyone, but a trite sentiment nonetheless. It is at this point in the album that we get slightly sick of Frank Walker (or Butch Turner, if you will) and want the old Frank back. The third single “Josephine” is another Butch Walker song right off the bat, with it’s “Whoa-oh-oh-s”, though this one doesn’t require any teeth grinding or track skipping. Frank’s lyricism saves the day and you find yourself tapping your foot in no time. “Love Forty Down” Is just what we needed. An old fashioned analogous, quick witted love song that starts out mellow and ends with that distinguishable, despairing yet confident Frank Turner shout. The tennis tune drifts into “Silent Key”, busting open with heavy guitar riffs and then riding out into a lovely homage to the Astronaut/teacher Christa McAuliffe of the Space Shuttle Challenger. This song plays out more like a personal narrative, flipping back and forth from the story of Christa and her fateful flight, and a four year old, English ham radio operator. You float through the whimsical melody and the haunting guest vocals of Esme Patterson, and then you’re brought back to earth with Frank’s exclamatory “Silent Key” howls. Finally, the Album ends with “Song for Josh”, Frank’s fervent, acoustic dedication to his friend, and 9:30 Club (Washington DC) security manager, Josh Burdette. Recorded live at the 9:30 Club, There’s no mistaking the authenticity and rawness of the content. A beautiful song with a beautiful message dedicated to, what general consensus says was, a beautiful soul. The album ends with a tearjerker, and a true to form Frank Turner number.
Final summation: The album has its strong points and its weak points. You’ll very soon find the tracks that you want to skip ahead to. While Butch Walker certainly added his two cents, the duo didn’t create the masterpiece that we all hoped for. Maybe next time. Frank’s Diehard fans will love this album regardless, but those that are looking for the wittiness and veracity of “Love, Ire and Song” or the call for personal revolution and self-acceptance of “England Keep My Bones” will find themselves lost and directionless in its intermittent lazy lyrics. By Frank’s request, it may be time for a few of us to “take [him] down to the English Channel.”