From facing all kinds of long-standing criticism for his political views to hesitating to budge on the topic of his side-project Möngöl Hörde’s band name, Frank Turner often doesn’t make things easy for himself, wading into Twitter discussions which often go round in circles before getting left on the floor. And now comes ‘No Man’s Land’.
‘No Man’s Land’ is an album about women; specifically women throughout history. Turner has described it as “an album dedicated to telling the fascinating stories of women whose incredible lives have all too often been overlooked by dint of their gender.” He’s slightly more self-aware than you’d imagine in all of this: the album is produced by Catherine Marks (Foals, The Killers, Wolf Alice), features a cast of female musicians and Turner has been quoted as saying, “If there was a crowded field of people writing songs about Princess Kassiani then I would see the argument for me bowing out, but there isn’t”. He has extensively tried to justify his position on the album in its press release and a blog post.
This incessant backpedalling and self-defence does a few things. Firstly, it shows a redeeming willingness to engage with his critics. Secondly – and vitally – it poses a simple question: what’s Frank Turner’s role in all of this? Reading a press release will tell you that Marks produced the record, and the instrumentation is an all-female job, but when you stick on ‘No Man’s Land’, it sounds like a Frank Turner record. That’s fine in itself, but he remains so relentlessly front-and-centre throughout that all the supposed reassurances he’s given across the promotional campaign for the album mean very little.
Musically, ‘No Man’s Land’ flits from old-style folk-punk on opener ‘Jenny Bigham’s Ghost’ to the grand, sweeping ‘I Believed You, William Blake’ to ‘Sister Rosetta’, which adopts the radio-friendly folk-rock he’s become a master of. Yet it does little to either push Turner forward or tell these stories satisfactorily. ‘I Am Easy To Find’, the new album from The National, comes to mind when listening to ‘No Man’s Land’. Accompanied by a short film starring Alicia Vikander, the record loosely tracks a woman’s lifetime, and is heavily punctuated by female voices that soundtrack the highest highs and lowest lows of the protagonist.
There’s no doubt that the stories of the women spoken about here are well worth telling, but you shouldn’t need to read a defensive blog post to work out what it’s all about, and on listening to the record, their voices are consistently overshadowed by Turner’s. Should’ve just made us a Spotify playlist instead, mate.