Positive Songs for Negative PeopleXtra Mile Recordings
By Dustin Blumhagen
Frank Turner has come a long way from the hungover punk quietly strumming his guitar on a side stage at a folk festival. With his last two albums, he clearly announced his intentions to cater to the arena crowds, adding plenty of accompaniment to supplement his sing-along anthems. Somewhere during this transition his songs began to play on mainstream radio and his shows became an awkward blend of young drunken frat bros and old punk rockers. Having released six albums, three compilations, a live recording, splits and numerous EPs in only the past nine years, Turner is undeniably a prolific recording artist. But this tendency to release every snippet of song has resulted in some dead weight in the past, including the bulk of his previous full-length, Tape Deck Heart.
Thankfully, Positive Songs is a refreshing song collection from North America’s favourite troubadour with a funny accent. This isn’t a complete departure, rather it seems like a logical progression in his continued album cycle. There are many England-specific references that most people won’t get (although you don’t need to know Winnipeg to appreciate The Weakerthans), lots of references to roads and plenty of charming songs about love, sadness and travelling. Where the last release seemed like an awkward glimpse into his personal diary of heartbreak filtered through Foo Fighters styled arena rock, this time around we see glimmers of hope. This isn’t exactly hardcore PMA though, Turner’s knack for self-deprecation and sad bastard barroom sing-alongs are still present. The juxtaposition suggested in the title is aptly played out in the song list, as a choir sings rejoice, rebuild, the storm has gone (The Next Storm) seconds before Turner makes the proclamation that I am so much worse than I have ever been (The Opening Act of Spring). But the dominant emotion on the album is channeled on Get Better, which is a triumphant call to healing, as he sings repeatedly We can get better because we’re not dead yet as the song ends.
While musically the album is not a large departure from what we have seen before, there is enough variation to keep it from feeling stagnant. On Glorious You a funky bass line drives the song as the lyrics celebrate what makes a friend great. The backing vocals from talented Canadians Billy the Kid and Lindi Ortega add some interesting harmonies. The ghost of Frank Turner’s punk rock past briefly shows up on Out of Breath, which effectively blends post-hardcore, arena rock and a dose of Celtic punk. While it sounds like a recipe for disaster, the lively track provides a welcome change of pace in the album and adds to its diversity, which is where Tape Deck Heart failed so miserably. On Josephine, the music is reminiscent of The Killers, as he sings a love song with plenty of whoas in the background. The music at the start of Love Forty Down sounds like he is attempting a folk punk cover of a pop punk song. It’s both ridiculous and wonderful at the same time in a way that only he could pull off. On the final track, he completes the cycle that started with the restrained folk of the opener. Song for Josh is a live acoustic track that laments the suicide of a friend. It is a strong finish to the album.
On the first listen through it is clear that this is a great album. It is a long way from the scrappy folk of Campfire Punk Rock, but it is one of the strongest of his many song collections. Perhaps it is just the gradual realization that he is an artist who is going to play what he wants.Many people felt a similar level of acceptance when Against Me! released Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which came from a completely different musical world than Reinventing Axl Rose, but was just as great. I accept the fact that I might be standing next to a kid half my age at a Frank Turner show. Good music is simply good music.