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Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People [Review]

The topic of Frank Turner’s music has often taken a backseat in media due to recent controversy over his political affiliations and the release of his best-selling autobiography, The Road Beneath My Feet. However, Turner is back in true folk-punk style with his latest LP Positive Songs for Negative People, an album which seems set to divide fans and have critics questioning whether it’s time for Turner to change his tune.

The album doesn’t burst into life so much as break softly with gentle lullaby The Angel Islington. It’s a delicate melody that sees Turner crooning of rebirth, singing ‘I resolve to start again, to wash my feet and cleanse my sins.’ Indicating that we can expect a refreshing album of positivity, Turner doesn’t disappoint as he launches into leading track Get Better, a raw and powerful slice of the traditional Frank that we know and love, complete with loud vocals, fist-pumping drum beats and crowd-clapping breaks. The album continues in a similar vein of jaunty pianos and upbeat lyrics with The Next Storm, but following track The Opening Act of Spring is an oxymoronic piece that continues with spirited instrumentals yet is contrasted heavily with lyrics of turmoil and struggle. However, in keeping with the theme of the album, there is a dash of sunshine in Turner’s gloomy vocals, stating that ‘I can dream of going back outside when the rain and thunder’s done’.

Following tracks Glorious You and Mittens are the album’s blinding highlights; Glorious You’s classic guitar intro is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen and is a refreshing tune with upbeat guitar patterns, loud, repetitive choruses and dance-inducing drum beats. It isn’t difficult to imagine this song being played to thousands at a summer festival and seeing those thousands belting back the infectious chorus. Mittens is a sincere ballad that entombs bitterness and sadness yet still leaves the listener feeling cosy. The song culminates with a gloriously gritty and heartfelt climax that transcends into a gentle termination, all the while filled with raw emotion and passion on Turner’s behalf. This is Frank at his best – expressive yet stirring. Far too often we see Turner preaching to the masses, whereas it’s his personal touches that truly make his tracks shine.

It’s a shame that a track as beautiful as Mittens jumps to the train wreck that is Out of Breath, a two-minute mess that travels at break-neck speed and sits awkwardly next to its mid-paced predecessor. Similarly, Demons is a forgettable and cliché track that detracts from the few gems on the album. The lyrics ‘at the truth we have arrived, god damn it’s great to be alive’ are cheesy at best and tarnish the latter half of Positive Songs alongside tracks Love Forty Down and Silent Key.

However, explosive track Josephine shines bright, and it’s anthemic from the start. ‘Whoa-oa-oa-oa’ pop-punk style choruses and a passionate, goose bump-inducing, confetti canon climax make Josephine a stand-out track from the album. It’s here where we truly see Turner’s progression from 2013’s Tape Deck Heart; it’s experimental and sees Turner leaning away from his folk-punk tendencies and more towards mainstream rock. If released, this song would be the radio’s darling.

Bizarre penultimate track Silent Key tells the tale of Christa McAuliffe, an astronaut aboard the tragic space shuttleChallenger. Esme Patterson joins Turner for an awkward harmony, and the track concludes in a blaze of gritty guitars andTurner’s trademark shouty vocals. Silent Key is an unsettling track of death, contrasting sharply with the album’s tragic finale,Song For Josh, a touching elegy to Turner’s friend Josh Burdette. This is the only song on the album to be recorded live, and it was performed at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC where Josh worked. The track is the most haunting on the record and is faintly reminiscent of Frank’s 2008 track Long Live The Queen. His voice can be heard to be breaking at points and the raw emotion conveyed makes the song a memorable tribute to Turner’s dear friend.

Perhaps the album can be seen as a reflection of life, opening with a track of birth and renewal and culminating with two songs that centre on death. The fact that the album both begins and ends with a heartfelt acoustic melody gives the album a sense of resolution and circularity. Positive Songs seems like Frank’s way of showing us that life, like Positive Songs, has both bright and dark moments that we must try and see positively, because after all, we’re not alive for long.

Positive Songs has its peaks and its ditches, and many listeners will feel that Turner could have done better. However, the songs that are done well are spectacular, and, thankfully, those that aren’t are easily forgotten.