Monday 19 August 2019

Frank Turner - No Mans Land

Frank's wikipedia entry describes him as "a punk and folk singer-songwriter".
On his latest album, he continues to strip back the Punk affectations and the emphasis is on the folky singer-songwriter.
Not that that is a "bad" thing, but the Punky bit was the one thing that gave his records a bit of excitement, an air of urgency, anthemic-ness, and a bit of a hook.

'No Mans Land' is a concept album (of sorts) - a collection of 13 songs celebrating women through history and their stories.
Mr Turner describes it thus: "an album dedicated to telling the fascinating stories of women whose incredible lives have all too often been overlooked by dint of their gender."
And he goes one stage further by engaging a female producer and a plethora of female musicians.
A concept and delivery that cannot be denigrated, but I do have the feeling of "trying too hard" about it.  There is nothing wrong with a group of songs focussing on worthy people, or indeed employing female musicians as your backing band.
It's only when you make a point of highlighting this fact does it become less about the content and more about the conceit.
Am I supposed to listen to these songs in a different way?  Am I supposed to take some education or thought from them?  By highlighting and celebrating a perceived minority, are you not re-enforcing that minority status?

But I quibble - this (his eighth album) is a good album housing 13 well written, well played tunes.  None of which jar on first listen, and each holding enough to warrant repeated listening.
Indeed, the second listen was more rewarding than the first
And then it hit me - my error on first listen was expecting a Frank Turner album.
Yes, it's his name on the cover, he does the songwriting and singing, but it is more of a Frank Turner "project" than a Frank Turner "album"

Suspending my expectations, I can report that this album is (nearly) "All killer, no filler" - maybe not "All killer", but there are no whiffs of filler about it.
Sometimes his (possibly affected) Street Busker accent takes over, but generally the songs do the job they intended to of telling a story against a musical back-drop.  And that backdrop is not one dimensional radio friendly pop-folk (or whatever genre Frank is now ploughing?), there's a bit of Country & Western ("The Death Of Dora Hand"), a jazz diversion complete with saxophone ("Nica"), and almost a bit of Tudor Minstrel going on  peppered throughout (notable on opener "Jinny Binghams Ghost").  And there are just a couple of tunes that sound vaguely recognisable, but are not wholesale nicks from elsewhere.
Having said that, the album does contain a re-record of "Silent Key" (from 2015s 'Positive Songs for Negative People').  For me, that song didn't sit comfortably on that album, but works in this setting.

If nothing else, it has got me searching wikipedia for more information about the songs subjects.
So maybe I was supposed to take some education from this "project".

Sister Rosetta

The Death Of Dora Hand


  1. I dp know what you mean about the concept - it's really worthy and interesting, but I can see how it could come across in some way as trying too hard. At the same time I think it must be one of those situation where you can't do right for doing wrong. Like a man who opens a door for a woman only to be told he's being patronising... maybe he was just being kind and thoughtful, and god knows we could do with some kindness and thoughtfulness.
    Anyway, I just looked up Dora Hand too so it's had the same effect on my curiosity!

  2. Your review hits the nail on the head as to why I've been avoiding this album so far, particularly the line "It's only when you make a point of highlighting this fact does it become less about the content and more about the conceit." Well, this and the fact that despite being a huge fan, his last record left me seriously underwhelmed. Still, you've encouraged me to give it a go.

    1. @Be More Kind' was a disappointing thing. I hoped it would be one of those "slow boilers" and maybe I missed something.
      Played it again recently - nah, I missed nothing. It just blandly washes over you