I wasn’t sure what to expect from folk-punk Frank Turner for his sixth album, Positive Songs For Negative People. His previous studio album, Tapedeck Heart, had some upbeat songs, but had an overall theme of heartbreak. A later B-sides collection followed suit, making me question is Turner had decided to forgo his punk heritage for a softer, folkier sound. But after he previewed a few new songs at his Wellington show on the last night of the tour earlier this year, I was satisfied that the new album would still have enough grit.
Opening track ‘The Angel Islington’ isn’t about buying a blue property in a game of Monopoly. Instead, in his typically English style, Turner sings about cleansing himself in the river and promising to start over. He’d decided to brush himself off and push on after the melancholic previous album, with this song signalling the change in attitude. It’s an idyllic little acoustic track reminiscent of other folk songs he’s done in the past, but it’s also the least interesting song on the album. This makes the following song sound even better and louder by comparison.
‘Get Better’ is by far the best song on the album. Obviously it’s the most familiar song, having been available for many months, but that doesn’t undermine how good it is. It’s a real stomper that gets me so fired up every time I hear it. I rate it among the best he’s written.
Bad weather is used as an extended metaphor throughout the album. ‘The Next Storm’ is about getting outside and living life, rather than hunkering down and waiting the storm out. ‘The Opening Act of Spring’ covers similar themes, with less of a fighting spirit. Backed by jangly mandolin, Turner details his hope for forgiveness and a better life once the storm has passed. ‘Mittens’ is a ballad that uses the imagery of mittens and gloves to tell the story of how a relationship never quite fit right.
Fighting for quality of life is another central theme. ‘Out Of Breath’ is about outrunning Death, and it’s played at such a pace that it seems that the musicians are almost tripping over themselves. ‘Demons’ sends the message that it’s great to be alive, so fight the demons that try to drag you down.
The fighting metaphor is taken literally in the music video for ‘The Next Storm’, which shows Turner in the ring with American wrestler CM Punk.
For both “Josephine’ and ‘Silent Key’, Turner has used historic figures as a basis for the song, adding even greater depth to the lyrics. ‘Josephine’ is pretty infectious with the “woahs” and ‘Silent Key’ is catchy with the repeated lyrics, but sadly I can’t stand the guest vocals sung by Esmé Patterson.
It’s the positive messages of the album that have resonated with me more than the music. The music is great though. Obviously the singles are among the strongest tracks. Other highlights include ‘Glorious You’, ‘Demon’ and ‘Love Forty Down’, which are all rousing because of the way Turner belts out his passionate vocals. Positive Songs for Negative People contains the same style that you’ve come to expect from the previous five albums, distilled into 40 minutes of folk-punk. I prefer the heavier and more upbeat sound on this album over the somewhat depressing Tapedeck Heart.
The Sleeping Souls prove themselves once again as the perfect backing band for Turner.They rock out when they need to, and they colour the music tastefully when it pulls back. Two of the finer musical moments on the album include the cut out during the bridge of ‘Glorious You’ and the gorgeous harmonies in the outro of ‘Demons’.
There are two songs that sum up the album. ‘Glorious You’ is all about support and accepting who you are. And the most powerful is saved for last. ‘Song For Josh’ is a
tear-jerker about a friend who had committed suicide, recorded live at the venue that Josh used to run. Somber as it is, this touching tribute really emphasises the overall message of the album – that life is worth fighting for.
Positive Songs for Negative People is suitably named. The negative people are there, the weirdos and outsiders; those who are pinned down by the storms and the demons. But overall the album is affirming and rousing, shouting a message loud and clear: “I’m alive and I’m going to fight to keep it that way”.
It’s not the best Frank Turner album (England Keep My Bones still stands as my favourite), but it’s still pretty great. It has tender moments, brilliant lyrics, uplifting messages and some ripping rock music.