Album Review: Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People

By on Wednesday, 5th August 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Frank-Turner-Positive-Songs-for-Negative-PeopleFrank Turner is most emphatically back, with a new outlook on life and a fresh new set of songs to go along with it. ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’ is Turner’s sixth studio LP, following on from 2013’s ‘Tape Deck Heart’.  On the previous album, the pendulum had clearly reached its full amplitude of heartbreak and desperation; with ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’, it has swung back with equal force in the opposite direction. While Turner’s songwriting is still intensely and unabashedly personal, the themes on this album look farther outward, exploring new territory both in terms of subject matter and musical character.

Generally speaking, ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’ retains the frenzied energy of Turner’s recent self-titled ‘Mongol Horde’ side project.  But the album does have its introspective moments, the most notable of which quite appropriately bookend its tracklisting. ‘The Angel Islington’ harkens back to the more folk-leaning narrative style of Turner’s earlier recordings, opening with an austere guitar accompaniment for the lyric “by the waters of the Thames / I resolve to start again”.  The closing ballad ‘Song for Josh’ is a heartfelt tribute to Turner’s friend Josh Burdette, a well-known and well-loved security guard at Washington, DC’s 9:30 Club who committed suicide nearly 2 years ago.

The three songs Turner previewed in live performances earlier this year at SXSW 2015 appear on the album in their fully arranged glory, and not a single one disappoints. ‘Get Better’, which we featured back in March, is a loud and proud declaration of the album’s intent, evidenced in the chorus lyric “I’m trying to get better ‘cos I haven’t been my best”. Its tone is defiant and pugilistic, a perfect segue in the album sequence to Turner’s recent single ‘The Next Storm’, whose wrestling-themed video we featured in June, and whose encouraging directive “rejoice, rebuild, the storm has passed” has become firmly planted in my head.

‘Silent Key’, Turner’s remembrance of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, was a tough pill to swallow when he sang it at FLOODfest in Austin during SXSW 2015, and it’s even more poignantly effective on the record. Uptempo and energetic despite its tragic thematic inspiration, it keeps with the album’s general focus by centering around the vocal line “I’m still alive”. Musically, it’s one of the outstanding tracks on the album, with an eerie guitar riff behind Turner’s haunting verses and a skillfully executed vocal contribution from Denver singer/songwriter and Xtra Mile labelmate Esmé Patterson.  Turner’s songwriting is at its level best here, particularly in the stunning second verse. Rarely do I have such a strong visceral reaction to a song, but this one hit me like a one-two shot to the solar plexus. As much as I love the idea of the song and Turner’s powerful alternative perspective on the events, I have to admit that I may never listen to ‘Silent Key’ again now that my review is officially in the books.

On the flipside of the coin, ‘Love Forty Down’ brought a grin to my face almost instantly. I missed out on hearing this one in Austin, but Turner had chatted with me about it in our interview during SXSW, and I was fairly dancing with anticipation. The song’s tennis-themed analogy about coming back from the edge of defeat, against seemingly impossible odds, is the best I’ve heard in a very long time. As a tennis aficionado who has literally been in that position many times, I can figuratively see Turner’s fighting spirit rising to the occasion, on this track and throughout the album.

The anthemic ‘Josephine’ is already on its way to becoming a live favourite among hardcore Turner fans. Its lyrics eruditely mention Napoleon and Beethoven but more interestingly, they touch on the idea of the feminine mystique, pleading with the mythical title character for salvation. As I listened, I couldn’t help wondering how the aforementioned Esmé Patterson might respond to it, given her recent interpretations of similar female characters in song. You can listen to an acoustic version of ‘Josephine’, courtesy of Punks in Vegas, just below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/e1hmzjmlf6g[/youtube]

Even when they make reference to Turner’s brooding recent past, these ‘Positive Songs’ shine with optimism. ‘Glorious You’ is uplifting and effusive, sharing Turner’s newfound self-assurance with a (presumably) female protagonist, while bright guitar and keyboard melodies intertwine around the euphoric lyric “God damn, it’s great to be alive” in ‘Demons’.

‘Positive Songs for Negative People’ comes as a radiant awakening after a lengthy emotional hibernation. It overflows with affirmation and enthusiasm at every turn, but its devil-may-care attitude keeps it from becoming trite. Turner’s lyrics characteristically alternate between blunt honesty and poetic lyricism, and he has employed a few fresh musical gestures to ratchet up the emotional ante. In short, this is Frank Turner at his finest, energetic and ebullient, raucous and rowdy, confident and clever.

9/10

Frank Turner’s sixth album ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’ is due for release this Friday, the 7th of August, via Xtra Mile Recordings and Polydor Records. Turner and his band The Sleeping Souls will tour the album through the UK in November. TGTF’s extensive previous coverage of Frank Turner can be found in its entirety right back here.

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