Be More Kind
Release Date: 4 May 2018
The punk folk chameleon is back in fine form with his seventh solo album and it sounds refreshing and summery despite the songs themes dealing with this crazy world in which we live. Wayne Carey reviews the Frank Turner’s latest outpourings.
Three years on from his last solo album Frank has definitely not been having a break. His gig count has gone up to over 2,100, he’s reworked his old material on the release of Songbook last November and brought back Mongol Horde for a few dates earlier this year.
Turner was halfway through writing a very different sort of album, a concept record about women from the historical record who had been ignored, when he was reading a collection of Clive James’ poetry and one particular line compelled him to re-think his direction. It was from a poem called Leçons Des Ténèbres: “I should have been more kind. It is my fate. To find this out, but find it out too late.” “It devastated me the first time I read it,” he says. “A lot of older, wiser people tend to say things like that, that the things that come out in the wash at the end of a human life are the way you treated the people around you. In the modern world, that’s a lesson that all of us, myself included could do to learn.”
Turner and his band, the Sleeping Souls, were on tour in the USA in 2016 “when the world decided to go collectively nuts” and the songs that make up Be More Kind started to come together. “Somewhere in the record, there’s a convergence of the ideas of personal and political, which is a central theme of the album,” Turner says. One of the driving themes of the album is empathy, even for your enemy. “You should at least be able to inhabit the mental universe of the people you disagree with. If you can’t do that, then how do you communicate with people other than through force of arms, which is something we all agree is a bad idea.” Behind some of the best songs of Turner’s career is the idea that the human race needs to find better ways of disagreeing than screaming each other down. Turner’s last two records, 2013’s Tape Deck Heart and 2015’s Positive Songs For Negative People, dealt with the fallout from a break-up and saw Turner struggling to cover the cracks in his personal life. Now happily in a relationship and living with his partner and their cat, he again set his sights to the bigger picture.
After the stripped-down, live-sounding Positive Songs…, Turner wanted to try a new approach for the record. Originally, he contacted Jenkins and Block at their Niles City Sound studio in Fort Worth, Texas with the idea of recording a white soul album in the vein of Dexys Midnight Runners. He found they were equally enthusiastic when he changed his mind and decided he wanted to record a more rock-led album with tints of electronic-pop. “I have an obscure corner of my music taste where I’m into glitch electronic music and Warp Records,” says Turner. “It’s not an electronic record but I got into arpeggiator synths.” Positive Songs… was cut in nine, intense days whereas Be More Kind was made over a period of seven months, giving Turner the opportunity to turn songs on their head, try different versions and shake up the dynamics within his band.
Be More Kind is a big shift from his earlier material with a lot of experimenting going on using new ideas. It’s definitely no Mongol Horde or Aphex Twin although he has used some new techniques to change his earlier sound.
It starts with Don’t Worry which builds up into a crescendo of clapping and gospel overtones mixed with that familiar FT mantra. 1933 is the closest you’ll get to a ‘punk’ song on the album (besides 21st Century Survival Blues) and is a good sharp witted dig at the politicians and the world in their bubble.
Little Changes is a cracking little pop song and you can tell he’s been listening to 80’s pop for some inspiration. . It started out as a simple folk song about relationships, in particular drawing on his experiences with CBT therapy in the last couple of years – the idea of trying to make small, practical adjustments to your life. A great track for the summer.
Be More Kind is more back to his folk roots and is quite straight forward but hits the heartstrings with it’s beautiful melodies. Lyrically, it draws on Clive James’ poem “Leçons Des Tenebres” and Kurt Vonnegut, and theoretically ends up somewhere simple but powerful.
Make America Great Again is a song aimed straight for the indie pop jugular and is a call to the people to make the racists ashamed again, a good call in these recent times. The sentiment gathered itself as he was on the road in the USA in August 2016, during the election campaign. He’s a huge fan of America, its people and its culture, and finds the current nativist outbreak pretty dispiriting – not least because they’ve so obviously misidentified what’s “great” about America, historically and conceptually.
Going Nowhere continues the theme and is a straight up folk love song. Not all of the album is trying to be in radically different musical territory. The line “In there like swimwear” is an expression that Americans haven’t generally heard before, which Frank enjoys.
Brave Face is Frank’s turn on a road trip style song recapturing his travel across the USA and is a cracking folk rock number. There She Is has lots of influences flying around with an 80’s pop feel and more charming melodies. The stand out track for me has to be 21st Century Survival Blues which is classic FT, the sort of song that got me into his music in the first place, that punk folk sound with clever lyrics. Will go down great live with The Sleeping Souls. I also rate Blackout, good guitar licks and the lyrics about a power cut that gives you the image of the council estate blackouts in the late 70’s and 80’s (if you’re an old bastard like me).
The last three songs Common Ground, The Lifeboat and Get It Right are all heartwarming folk songs that take you to lazy summer days with a cold lager. It leaves a good feeling and you know Frank hasn’t just stalled in the songwriting stakes just yet. This album would be a good introduction to new listeners and has more diversity than his earlier stuff. Another winner!
Pre-Order the album here: https://frankturner.lnk.to/BeMoreKindPR
A nice guy all round and a songwriter to be cherished. Frank Turner is still touring with The Sleeping Souls and you can catch him at the dates below.
1st – Southampton Guildhall.
2nd – Southend Cliffs Pavilion.
4th – Leicester O2 Academy.
5th – Oxford O2 Academy.
8th – Hull City Hall.
9th – Norwich UEA.
11th – London Roundhouse.
22nd – Birmingham Arena.
25th – Victoria Warehouse Manchester.
27th – Leeds First Direct Arena.
29th – O2 Academy Glasgow.
1st – Bournemouth Windsor Hall.
2nd – Cardiff Motorpoint Arena.
3rd – Alexander Palace London.
The Frank Turner website is here
Words by Wayne Carey who writes for Louder Than War. His author profile is here and you can catch his blog at wayneacarey1970.blogspot.co.uk