Sunday 23 August 2015

Frank Turner - Positive Songs for Negative People

An overly simplistic description of Frank Turner would be:
A Shouty Billy Bragg, without the politics

This is the sixth album from the Folk-Punk Singer Songwriter.  Each album has contained songs ranging from the confessional, to the rabble-rousing all wrapped up in folk-punk story songs, complete with uplifting choruses, and heart worn firmly on his sleeve.

As the opening track ("The Angel Islington") progresses, you feel that the title of the album may be a bit of a misnomer.  It starts slowly, and in a downward, almost naval-gazing tone, and never really lists.  Lyrically, however, you can pick up on the positive intent, concerning itself with picking one-self up and starting again. As openers go, musically this is a bit of a downer - it's nice enough, but lacks "something" to draw you in, and you can't help wishing it would actually go somewhere. Nice enough, but not perhaps a storming opener in the way "Discovery" from his previous effort 'Tape Deck Heart' was.
No matter, the second track "Get Better" is back into more noisy, bouncing territory.  There are points when you can almost hear his voice (and throat) breaking.
"The Next Storm" is a track that contains many familiar elements, but I can't for the life of me work out what they are.  Whatever - play loud, sing (or shout) along and this tune will bury itself in your head.
The mandolin-laden "The Opening Act Of Spring" maintains the feel-good affirmation apparent in the last couple of songs, but for me it was around this point I was overtaken by an unfortunate feeling of "saminess" about the album.  That is not to say what follows as any less worthy, just that it took more than the usual three listens to start finding more in the songs that followed.
"Glorious You" is cut form the same cloth as "Get Better" (maybe slightly more acoustic), and has that instrumental drop-out section ensuring it will be a favourite in a live arena.
"Mittens" is a curious one - a song of lost love based on the memory of a pair of woolly hand warmers.  It si both cringe-worthy and moving in equal parts.  Either way, the song starts in a fairly low-key sparse manner before building to the familiar rabble-rousing chorus, and then returning to the plaintive acoustic.
"Out Of Breath" is an apt title - full throttle, break neck tempo.  Complete with military drums, strings, pub piano (and probably the kitchen sink for good measure).  On first hearing, the guitar solo in the middle could easily be mistaken for a kazoo.
The riff to "Demons" sounds like it was nicked from Status Quo, but you can't help feeling that the album is perhaps running out of steam and the intentions, messages and tunes becoming all to familiar.
"Josephine" does nothing to change this feeling about the album, although it should be said that this is one of the stronger tracks in the collection.  Maybe it was an executive decision of sequencing so that Side 2 (in old money) would get just as much play-time as Side 1.
"Love Forty Down" is back to territory, employing a tennis metaphor a few more times than necessary to get the point across.  It's OK, but not a memorable track.
"Silent Key" is a fictionalised tale of a young Frank hearing the last radio broadcasts from Astronaut Christa McAuliffe.  Despite the additional vocals provided by Esme Patterson on the dual vocal coda, the track sounds confused, unfocussed and repetitive, despite its best positive intentions which (according to the author) are about: "celebrating and appreciating the luck of ever having lived".
The album closes with a live version of "Song For Josh" - the song is an open and honest tale of losing a close friend.  There is definite emotion coming through the voice as the track unfolds.  I'm guessing (and I may be completely wrong here?) that the track may have been recorded in the studio beut just didn't have that "thing" about it, so the live version was chosen instead.

Since his debut releases, rolling through to last years 'Tape Deck Heart' I would suggest that some of the early urgency has been replaced by a more "considered" songwriting approach and more shine in the production department.
Considered on it's own, Positive Songs is a great little album - one that could happily be played at full blast and sang long to on a boring road trip, or commute.  But by comparison to previous outings, it fails to hit the heights of 'Love, Ire & Song' or 'England Keep My Bones'.
I'm hoping the glossy production is confined to the studio, and Live he has lost none of the bombast.  But on the evidence of this album, I now have to term him as:
A (Slightly) Shouty Billy Bragg, without the politics, and a shiny production job

Saturday 1 August 2015


What do I know about Sparks?
Not a lot to be honest - the singles "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us", "Amatuer Hour", "Beat The Clock" and "Number One Song In Heaven" are hard wired into my brain.  I bought a copy of 'Kimono My House' on the back of an article about Morrissey and his letters to the NME praising the album.  It is definitely worth owning and listening to, even if it is not played with any great regularity.  But that's about it - I never explored their back catalogue further.
In my head, I have them marked down as purveyors of bombastic, slightly unhinged pop.

What do I know about Franz Ferdinand?
Not too much more than I know about Sparks.  I own the debut album, played it a lot when it was released, but lost interest in the follow-up and not been back on my radar.

So a joint effort may not sound immediately appealing, but, hey, its worth a punt.
And what a fruitful put that was.

Starting with an echoing piano. the opening track "Johnny Delusional" starts in Franz Ferdinand territory, and then Russel Maels voice chimes in, adding Sparks to the mix.  The track bounds along and you think: "Franz Ferdinand and Sparks together on one record is not a bad thing.  Maybe I should consider exploring their respective back catalogues".
"Call Girl" is a Franz Ferdinand track sung by Sparks.  "Dictators Son" is the track where it all gels, and you're not thinking or hearing either band separately.  "Little Guy From The Suburbs" is almost veering into ballad territory with a slow melancholic opening, and a slow, measured, sparse and acoustic delivery.  "Police Encounters" is the most overtly bombastic song here, and is likely to be stuck in your head for days after hearing it.
"Save Me From Myself" from myself has a passing nod to "This Town .." and is a solid, if not on the same earworm level as the preceding tracks.
"So Desu Ne". "The Man Without A Tan", "Things I Won't Get" also have the lack of earworm-y-ness about them, but there is no wrong with them.
The close of the album offer the 3 strongest tracks on the album.  "The Power Couple" opens with a barrel-house piano, and you feel it never really goes anywhere, apart from getting stuck in your head.

"Collaborations Don't Work" starts out sounding like a moment of frustration with the project, and the author was sitting in the studio with a guitar, noodling away and just tossed the phrase off over an arpeggio.  But then ... quick change of pace, and it starts to build to epic proportions.  And just as you get to the point of equilibrium, it changes pace again, and again, and again.

The closing track is unlikely to get much radio play being titled "Piss Off", and bounces along like a pub sing-a-long.  It's raucous, overblown, and ever so slightly amusing (or maybe that's just me still sniggering at swear words delivered completely straight faced).

The Deluxe Edition contains four further tracks - I've only got the standard 12 track CD issue, so a visit to Spotify was called for.
The extra tracks are worthwhile listening, but I don't believe that they would make the album stronger.

It's one of those albums that is getting better and better with every listen.
Yes, this was one of my better punts

Police Encounters

Piss Off