We can consider Frank Turner’s 2013 album, Tape Deck Heart, as the break-up album, an intimate glance into the unraveling of a long term relationship, his Fleetwood Mac – Rumours or his Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks, if you will.
Frank’s recent venture, Positive Songs for Negative People, is about picking up the pieces and making a fresh start. Frank manages just that: he delivers a freshness, to Positive Songs… taking his sound in a new direction, focusing his inspiration on different subject matter, while looking forward to a new beginning.
“By the waters of the Thames, I resolve to start again,” Frank sings on ‘The Angel Islington,’ the finger-picked bedroom ballad that opens the album.
The theme of a fresh start continues into the thumping snare and punctuated vocals of ‘Get Better’ with Frank singing “I got me a future, I’m not stuck on the past.” and “We can get better, because we’re not dead yet.”
A new attitude isn’t all that has changed in the former hardcore singer from Hampshire’s new album. Frank has proven that his music can fill stadiums, as his performance at the Olympic opening ceremony in 2012 aptly proved. Frank certainly brought a stadium-filling vocal performance to Positive Songs… with the elated finale of “The Next Storm” being one of the finest on the album, as he almost screams “Rejoice, rebuild, the storm has passed.”
Frank turns to snappier percussion, layered backing vocals and soaring synth and guitar melodies such as on “Josephine.” Little remains of the sombre, introspective and tortured voice of Tape Deck Heart.
It was this introspection that made Tape Deck Heart such a brilliant album, and Frank’s appeal as a songwriter and a performer, is his unabashed way of laying himself bare to his audience, with his heart on his sleeve. Yet Positive songs… sees Frank draw upon other wells of inspiration.
‘Silent Key’ puts the listener within the Challenger space shuttle, which exploded shortly after launch, killing it’s seven crew members. Playing on the myth that crew member Christa McAuliffe, survived the crash. Frank sings: ‘She called out the truth on a broken radio: “I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive.”’
The perspective then shifts to the four-year-old radio operator, Frank Turner, in his Hampshire family home, listening to Christa’s long-lost transmission. ‘Silent Key’ echoes the sentiment of ‘Get Better’ in calling out to the listener “I am not dead yet,” but more significantly, it demonstrates Frank’s ability to capture remote and abstract content matter and endow it with a fresh and complex meaning.
Frank Turner is defiantly ‘staring down the barrel of his fourth decade’ and declaring “I am not dead yet.” Picking up the pieces and going back to basics, Positive Songs for Negative People is rowdy, strong-spirited and punchy yet still somehow manages to feel entirely heartfelt and most importantly, human.
Written by Josh Budd