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Frank Turner - 'Positive Songs For Negative People'
Rallying cries and meditations on the darker side of life make up the arena-punk star's sixth album
Turner has amassed entire arenas of devoted followers via the age-old troubadour tenet of making them feel like friends walking the long and righteous road from north London indie dive Nambucca to Wembley right alongside him, the horizon their home. They were with him back in 2007, sharing bug-infested venue mattresses and hungover walks of shame on debut ‘Sleep Is For The Week’ (UK Number 200). They smelt the sweat of his first thousand shows on the punk journeyman anthems of 2009’s ‘Poetry Of The Deed’ (Number 36). And, their numbers swollen dramatically, they’re with him now, willing him along the “long road up to recovery” from the brilliant brave-face despond of 2013’s ‘Tape Deck Heart’ (Number 2).
Even now he remains steadfastly within touching distance in a way fee-focused major rock stars just don’t, skipping between arena tour and school fete gig, a Pentecostal punk pop missionary relentlessly spreading his sermon on the life-saving power of human union and rock’n’roll.
Every album is a chapter in Frank’s on-going aural autobiography, and ‘Positive Songs…’ is his Getting Over It dispatch. Whatever relationship car crash inspired ‘Tape Deck Heart’ has been shunted behind him by a determination not to squander his prime years on one long, protracted cry-wank. “I haven’t been myself… I resolve to start again,” he vows on reflective acoustic opener ‘The Angel Islington’, and his psychological rehabilitation kicks in instantly. “I got me a future, I’m not stuck on the past!” he bawls as the snarling guitars and Springsteen pianos of ‘Get Better’ burst like sunlight through thunderclouds, helpfully going on to detail his method for kicking the blues: chest graffiti. “She drew a line across the middle of my broken heart,” he sings, “and said ‘come on now, let’s fix this mess… we’re not dead yet’.” It sounds so defiant it’ll have a generation of tortured teenagers grasping for Sharpies.
Before long Frank’s howling “Goddamn, it’s great to be alive!” and “when you meet Death, be out of breath” on power pop and jig punk odes to living fast and leaving a grinning, knackered corpse. “Rejoice! Rebuild! The storm has passed!” he roars on rattling first single ‘The Next Storm’, which aligns surviving his own personal Katrina with the belief that humanity is emerging from a period of social, religious and political hopelessness. It’s the sentiment of a man who’s ignored every word ever uttered by Conservative Chancellor George Osborne but, with Frank’s head turned by the magnitude of arena rock, it’s a convincing rallying cry for a priced-out, Tory-shafted generation.
Emotional equilibrium restored, the rest of ‘Positive Songs…’ finds Frank dancing around his faults and failings, bound for even greater glories. ‘The Opening Act Of Spring’ and ‘Mittens’ are stirring, regretful stadium folk romances. ‘Glorious You’ and the Napoleon-complex punk of ‘Josephine’ are Green Day-sized anthems crying out for firework fountains and drones spewing ticker tape. It ends with two laments, one loud - bombastic Pumpkins grunger ‘Silent Key’, Frank’s tribute to schoolteacher and Challenger disaster victim Christa McAuliffe who survived the fuel tank explosion but not the crew cabin’s fall to Earth – and one devastatingly quiet. ‘Song For Josh’ is a live-recorded acoustic open letter to Washington DC punk club manager Josh Burdette who committed suicide in 2013 aged 35, and Frank’s grief is sincere and tangible. “I let you down in your darkness, I wasn’t there” he sings, voice trembling, slamming the album’s message home hard. Grasp life tight; it wriggles.
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