Album Review: Frank Turner – Be More Kind

Frank Turner Be More Kind

I consider myself lucky that I got a sneak preview of this new album when I saw Frank Turner play in Vancouver last year. He’s been a favourite artist of mine for many years now, to the point that the very idea of a new record is super exciting. I’ve held out for it for a long time.

Was it worth the wait?

First up, I must mention that this album feels different. The last album signaled an upturn in mood – the very name denotes a shift to a more positive mentality. And following on from that, Be More Kind certainly boasts a happy-go-lucky vibe.

Admittedly, I was unsure about this record at first. It signals a fairly drastic change for Turner. But then, thinking about it, he has always drawn influence from many places. A hardcore kid gone singer/songwriter, dipping his toes in folk, country and rock along the way. And although this record sounds more campfire than punk rock, it’s still a great listen.

For most of this record, Turner has dropped the punk sound, but raised the punk ethos. It is a political record, albeit gently. Turner copped flack in the past when he flirted with political messages, receiving attacks because of his privileged background that included an education at Eton, and because his message didn’t align with that of many of his fan base.

But recent world events have been catalysts that shifted Turner’s stance, drawing him back to political songwriting. He implores us to fight injustice and hatred, to reclaim identity and join in solidarity against the rising face of nationalism. “Sand In The Gears“, Turner’s last release prior to Be More Kind, was the sound of defeat. Trump had just been elected, and Turner’s response was wanting to hang out at the bar or a punk show and forget about the world.

Thematically, “1933” follows on from “Sand In The Gears” with this desire of wanting to escape realities by hanging out at the bar, but slowly emerging from such a passive stance with a call to action – this time drawing parallels between the rise of Nazi Germany and current world events.

On the whole, Be More Kind compels us not to escape reality, but confront it. This is never more obvious than the track “Make America Great Again”, which takes Trump’s slogan and uses it against him, examining the aspects of America that make it a great country, and highlighting that those elements should … er… trump (?) the negative things that we’ve been associating with the USA in recent years.

It’s a weird call to action, considering the man who wrote it is a Englishman with a history of clearly patriotic songs. What right does he have to comment on the state of America? But I get it. I’m a New Zealander, and I love America too. I don’t blame the country as a whole for the actions of their government – much like I don’t often stand by the actions of my own government, even though they are supposed to represent me.

I can see this being one of the more divisive songs on the album. I enjoy both the music and the message, but picture it rubbing some people up the wrong way.

I don’t love Be More Kind as much as some of Turner’s other albums. I have no issue with the pop songs, but too many tracks are slow and drag down an otherwise catchy and fun album. Title track “Be More Kind” is just too tame for my liking, as are “Going Nowhere”, “The Lifeboat” and “Get It Right”. “21st Century Survival Blues” gets a borderline pass from me – almost worth skipping but with a redeemable chorus. It’s the folky songs that bring the side down.

That said, I’ve absolutely adored “There She Is” ever since I heard Turner preview it in Vancouver last year. It’s a slow burner that still sustains energy throughout.

I feel harsh saying this, but I have my critic hat on. I like Be More Kind, but it really is a case of singles that stand out, with filler sandwiched between them. “Don’t Worry” is a fun, carefree number – Jack Johnson meets “The Bare Necessities” complete with hand claps. “Little Changes” is a catchy wee ditty, with an infectious beat and horns. “Blackout” and “Brave Face” are both upbeat and enjoyable, as is the calmer “Common Ground”.

The verdict? Not a strong cohesive album, but still good enough that I’ll keep listening to it. And I’m still super excited to see Turner and The Sleeping Souls play when they come to New Zealand in November.

A cheesy quote springs to mind. Recent Star Wars film The Last Jedi featured a new character Rose, who says something that left me reflecting long after the film had finished:

“That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”

And I think that line sums up the message of Be More Kind. Fight injustice with kindness, make the racists ashamed, show compassion, celebrate life… Be more kind.


Joseph James

Album Review: Frank Turner – The Third Three Years (B-sides collection)

Frank Turner Third Three Years

Folk-punk troubadour Frank Turner stays true to his DIY hardcore roots by releasing a third b-sides collection with a nod to Black Flag.

Turner had hardcore/punk origins as front man of the band Million Dead. After Million Dead, er … died, Turner began a solo career with a folk sound along the lines of Billy Bragg and the late Joe Strummer. He’s worked hard touring and recording consistently over the years, and now has begun to achieve relative commercial success, having headlined at Wembley Arena and played at the London Olympics opening ceremony in recent years.

This is Turner’s third collection of b-sides, following his last album Tape Deck Heart. The title and album art  are inspired by The First Four Years from seminal hardcore outfit Black Flag.

I’m a bit late to the party reviewing this album, but sometimes it takes a while for things to arrive in New Zealand when I have to order them from overseas. It was worth the wait though.

I’ve kept up with some of Turner’s non-album output, such as Daytrotter sessions, but I was pleased to discover that Third Three Years contained music that was almost entirely new to me, including some unreleased gems. The collection comprises of covers,  b-sides from EP’s and singles and obscure recording sessions.

In fact, nearly half the collection are up of covers. Turner covers his bases with his choices. There are classic bands (Queen, Tom Petty), folk singers (Townes Van Zandt) and punk artists (Tony Sly, The Weakerthans). These covers do well to encompass Turner’s very British style of folk-punk. Many of the covers are stripped back, giving the overall album a more somber feel. But hey, anybody who can take on a song by Freddie Mercury and do it justice deserves a thumbs up in my books.

There are a few alternative outtakes from his latest album, Tape Deck Heart. My favourite from that album, “The Way I Tend To Be” is given different treatment with extra mandolin and piano.

There are two collaborations with other artists. “Happy New Year” is a humourous and unpretentious ditty with Jon Snodgrass and “Fields Of June” is a country number by Emily Barker that Turner features on. These duets work nicely to add a bit of variety to the mix.

The rest of the songs are just what you’d expect, punk ethos singer-songwriter music with breathless singing and swear-word filled shouting. Although this is what I expected, I didn’t expect so much solo work. Turner’s touring band, The Sleeping Souls seem absent from these recordings. A few songs are collaborations with other musicians – Revival Tour style DIY camaraderie – but other than a mandolin, organ or added guitar accompaniment here or there, there is a marked lack of a full band of most tracks. The Sleeping Souls are credited on nine songs, but it’s pretty subtle because they’re hard to detect.

B-sides collections like these are never as strong as a cohesive studio album, but can offer rare gems for the diehard fans. There are a lot of songs (21!), and although most are not considered ‘good enough’ to make the cut, fans won’t be disappointed. And they should know what to expect, because any serious Frank Turner will likely have The First Three Years and The Second Three Years anyway.

Overall this album is a bit too sedate to get regular play through my speakers. There is more of a folk focus than punk. I’m more likely to select the handful of songs that I enjoy more and include them in playlists than listen to the entire collection. But just to show that he’s not getting soft, Turner closes off the CD with a rip-roaring live version of “Dan’s Song”. It’s furiously fast and explosive, just like punk music should be.

Frank Turner put on an excellent show in Wellington in April 2013 with his backing band, The Sleeping Souls. He’s returning this April to play sideshows from the Byron Bay Bluesfest. Details can be found through the Chicks That Scream Facebook page.

Joseph James