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Frank Turner - Protest & Survive,
This review is from: England Keep My Bones (Audio CD)
Frank Turner has reached a crossroads as this album demonstrates. On the one hand he wants to maintain his loveable folk punk poet persona while on the other you suspect he wants to be a rock star of Springsteen proportions with punch the air rock anthems of the highest order. His socialist protest songs are truly admirable and yes we all know that he comes from a very privileged background but them so did Joe Strummer. At the end of the day its about commitment and Frank gives it all in terms of his live act, relentless touring and his championing of good causes. More than any other singer since Billy Bragg the music of Frank Turner emphasizes a distinct egalitarian form of "Englishness" and draws on a folk tradition of protest and dissent which is able to tap into a wide audience. As such Turner is proud of his linage and sings with real passion in "Rivers" about the need to "place your trust into the sea/It's kept us safe for centuries/It shaped our shores and steadily/Its care has brought us, come/When I die, I hope to be buried out in English seas/So all that then remains of me/Will lap against these shores". There is nothing wrong with this at all and as someone from an equally proud Welsh background its great to see an English singer thinking deeply about cultural heritage which doesn't involve wrapping himself in the Union Jack. That said the folk protest of "English curse" harking back to William's invasion in 1066 and its impact on rural England has a sort of "Hey nonny nonny" finger in your ear solemnity which gives folk a bad name. Similarly while the preachy "I still believe" can be located in Guthrie style protest it is not really that original, neither is the celebratory atheist hymn "Glory hallelujah".
The good news alternatively is that when Turner worries less about his location in the protest genre and starts to fully concentrate on the songs he has the ability to write storming music. The clearest example is "I am disappeared" which goes well beyond his usual basic acoustic style instrumentations and with the employment of a band behind him he pens one of the best rock songs of 2011. Its influences are clearly drawn from Springsteen and Craig Finn but it is here that his Englishness is used to construct something new and original namely a propulsive road rock song full of local references and place names which is a powerful beast. The swirling joyous music that is "Peggy sang the blues" equally shows that when Turner is not proletysing he can write superb pop songs which many of contemporaries would envy through deep shades of green. My point here is simple and centres on the fact that there certainly is a need in these troubled times for someone to "tell it like it is" and "afflict the comfortable". Yet it is often the case that the greatest protest songs are not the in your face Frank Turner style anthems but deeply thoughtful and shatteringly powerful songs like "Elvis Costello's "Shipbuilding" or the landmark originality of the Specials era defining "Ghost town". In large parts "England take my bones" is a great passionate album full of fervour and heart. But in the famous words of the teacher "Frank Turner could do better" and that will mean less overt populism and more deep thoughtful reflection. Frank Turner has a truly great album in him but this isn't it .......yet.