English troubadour Frank Turner‘s latest album is possibly his most fully produced and commercial record to date, and most importantly, contains some of his most engaging songwriting. Perhaps it’s the influence of Trump’s America that has inspired him, but Turner has managed to coalesce his politically-minded lyrics with more hook-driven music structures to create a rock record that is catchy, hopeful, thoughtful and positive.
The most obvious track to look at is “Make America Great Again”, where Turner knowingly takes an outsider’s perspective of our country and advises on how he feels it can truly get better (“Make racists ashamed again”). While there is a bit of cheek to the lyrics, it’s obvious the song comes from a place of love and a desire to see our nation regain it’s standing in the eyes of the world. Musically, Turner has crafted a melodic, dare I say pop chorus out of the socially conscious lyrics, and has smoothed out some of the rough edges of his earlier, punkier work in the production.
This cleaner production may turn off some of Turner’s longtime fans who like their folk-punk singers to remain unplugged and raucous. There definitely is still some of that fiery spirit here, such as in the incendiary “1993”, which is sung from a perspective many of us can relate to – someone who is so fucking dumbstruck by what’s happening in the world, that the only place they feel safe is in a bar (“But I don’t know what’s going on anymore / The world outside is burning with a brand new light”). It’s not all so dreary though – “Little Changes” is a shiny little gem with a simple uplifting message, and “There She Is” reveals the album’s romantic streak (“I slipped on myself, no help from anyone else / I fell in love and I was humbled / There she is / Isn’t she everything?).
A couple of the softer songs on the album are well-meaning but never quite take-off (the sleepy “Going Nowhere”, or the sincere but overly-fluffy “Be More Kind”). Thankfully there are plenty of anthemic numbers to lift the album above these missteps. “Brave Face” is inspiring pop rock about getting through the end of the world, and album highlight “Blackout” is a rocker about addressing the fears we all have and knowing we aren’t facing them alone.
There’s a lushness to the instrumentation and production to “Blackout” and other tracks like “21st Century Survival Blues”, showing Turner embracing the use of a full band to reach for more adventurous and diverse sounds. It’s a big step forward for Turner, and definitely worth a listen.