English singer-songwriter Frank Turner released his 4th studio album, England Keep My Bones, on June 7, produced by Tristan Ivemy in London. This follow-up to 2009’s Poetry of the Deed marks another step in Turner’s evolution into a polished rock/folk singer-songwriter. Despite his roots in the English hardcore punk scene, Turner has been able to transition very effectively into his new role as a melodic, lyrical, and unabashedly nationalistic artist.
This new album, which takes its title from Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John, combines Turner’s traditional barroom melodies and style with a particular emphasis on English history and culture. However, while clearly his most polished and highly-produced effort thus far, England Keep My Bones still finds itself searching for a true identity. Turner demonstrates his familiarity with British folklore in “Rivers” and the a cappella “English Curse.” He also emphasizes his own national identity in the track “Wessex Boy.” These nationalistic folk-songs are contrasted by the more traditional rock tracks “Peggy Sang the Blues” (the first single off the album) and “I Still Believe.” Turner also mixes in the much heavier and energetic “One Foot Before the Other,” which unfortunately never really seems to capitalize on its driving rhythms, and the beautifully ironic and atheistic “Glory Hallelujah,” which juxtaposes church organs and hand-clapping beats with the chorus “there is no God/so ring that victory bell.”
While the album is not as deep as Poetry of the Deed, or as introspective as Sleep is for the Week, Turner’s song-writing talents are still on full display from the very outset. The track “Peggy Sang the Blues” is a well-crafted rock song that combines a driving, toe-tapping bass line with Turners classic folk-guitar and creative lyrics. The best track on the album, however, and the reason this album is worth paying attention to, is the barroom anthem “I Still Believe.” Destined to be a crowd favorite at Turner’s live shows, this track is an ode to the power and influence of Rock music. It’s difficult not to rally behind (and shout along with) Turner’s sing-along chorus, when he muses: “Who’d have thought, after all/something so simple as Rock & Roll, could save us all?”
As a result of a tireless touring schedule and several captivating performances at the Reading and Leeds festivals over the past few years, Turner, the former frontman of the hardcore punk band Million Dead, has been carving out quite a devoted following since he went solo in 2005. While the heart of his fan base still resides across the pond in England, he finally broke into the American consciousness with his 2010 world tour promoting the album Poetry of the Deed, which included a prominent support slot with Flogging Molly. Much like Molly’s Dave King, Turner has been able to find a dedicated following by both embracing and modernizing the barroom hymns and folklore of his homeland. Turner is clearly maturing as an artist, and focusing his songwriting in a more political and socially-conscious direction, but he seems reluctant (for good reason) to entirely abandon his rough barroom attitude for a purely folk persona. His new album, as a result, while still a good listen, lacks the catalytic force that many believe he is capable of.
Tracks you should listen to: “Peggy Sang the Blues” and “I Still Believe”
Tracks to avoid: “I Am Disappeared”
2. Peggy Sang The Blues
3. I Still Believe
5. I Am Disappeared
6. English Curse
7. One Foot Before The Other
8. If Ever I Stray
9. Wessex Boy
10. Nights Becomes Days
12. Glory Hallelujah
~ Frank Turner’s thematic focus on morality and “Englishness” clearly makes its point, but the album as a whole is not the leap forward many fans were hoping for. Worth a listen because Turner’s obvious talents are once again on display, but nothing ground-breaking for those familiar with his work.