If Frank Turner is anything, he’s everything.
For the past decade or so, the 33-year-old rogue rocker and Eton alum has been pushing through the backdoors of bars and arenas at a blistering pace. His efforts have paid off with both a loyal fan base and a sink-or-swim sound that could only be born on stage and while Turner’s roots are buried in metal, his solo career has revealed a folk sensibility with a punk hangover. In his latest effort, Mr. Turner effectively turns anything he once was into everything he now is.
Positive Songs for Negative People stretches 12 songs over as many genres and an ocean. The album was recorded in an impressive nine days in Nashville and is superbly produced by magic-maker Butch Walker. Tracks are thoughtfully placed and transitions are often seamless from one song to the next. Positive Songs speedily follows Turner’s 2013 heartbreak album Tape Deck Heart and succeeds in expanding outward and upward.
The record starts off on the Thames with mandolin heartbreaker ‘The Angel of Islington’ and jumps quickly into the snare-driven rocker ‘Get Better’. Here we get a taste of the intuitive and inventive work of Turner’s long-time backing band, The Sleeping Souls. Nigel Powell on the drum kit is both singular and supportive, driving rhythms with a nuanced grip. ‘The Next Storm’ leads off with Matt Nasir on piano and is most definitely the power song of the record and you can almost hear Turner step away from the mic and let the audience take over. ‘Opening Act of Spring’ marks a third of the album’s length and my mother always said that you should trust a song that sounds like a train – she wasn’t wrong. Throughout the album, time signatures and temperatures are refreshingly playful.
However, the inventiveness of Positive Songs lies most noticeably in its first five tracks, after which, the record loses a bit of steam. Metaphors become a tad clunky – a few of them downright head scratchers. And, much of the record doesn’t lyrically match up to its musical sophistication. Turner’s explosive vocals are often mismatched with the sentiment – unless he really is that passionate about wanting love to fit more like a glove than a mitten.
Perhaps the strongest track of Positive Songs is the last, a soulful tribute to Washington DC’s Josh Burdette, the manager of the 9:30 Club and a friend of Turner’s. ‘Song for Josh’ was recorded live in DC, and reveals a sophistication in songwriting and sentiment. Here we find a renewed faith that Turner knows exactly what he wants to say when he wants to say it. Or at least, he knows how to say farewell to a friend.
The album is a hefty display of talent, unapologetically aimed towards the seats in the back. It stealthily combines the stadium with the studio and leaves both old and new fans looking forward to a long-term love affair with a tattooed troubadour.