Sunday, 19 June 2011

Frank Turner, England Keep My Bones

If questions of musical taste were relationships, and how could they be otherwise, my relationship with Frank Turner’s work would be a whirlwind romance: three months ago, I wouldn’t have known him from Adam. Having stumbled across tickets to his 1,000th gig at Strummerville, I earned bruises on my shins and a thirst for knowledge of the man’s discography. The bar was set high – Sleep is for the Week, Love Ire & Song and Poetry of the Deed had been (respectively) haunting and incessant, joyfully anarchic and punctuated with anthemic gems. In my best of all possible worlds, I expected England Keep My Bones to keep up the good work. Honeymoon periods can only last so long, surely.

Or can they?

Juxtaposing funereal and assertive classic rock sonorities, opening track Eulogy reprises the involuntarily optimistic preoccupation with mortality that had characterised The Ballad of Me and My Friends and Richard Devine. The proactive anger of those earlier songs has matured into a matter-of-fact statement of the point of being alive; the uncompromising vein of Devine, in particular, gives way in EKMB to a more emphatic approach encapsulated by Nights Become Days and Redemption, a two-part reflection on the possibility of outliving one’s mistakes.

I Still Believe, a love song to musical ideals off Turner’s Rock & Roll EP, raises the spirits in preparation for the tranquil sense of belonging permeating Rivers. Through this geo-historical exploration of collective consciousness, Turner contextualises within a strong identity the travelling troubadour’s instinct expressed in I Am Disappeared. The names of Dylan and Hemingway are not merely dropped but integral to Turner’s constant process of understanding where he comes from and is therefore going to, just as Baudelaire and Kerouac hadn’t been invoked in vain in POTD’s title track. The itinerant-versus-homecoming dichotomy meet in the playful intestine war of If I Should Stray, only to be problematized again by the pride of Wessex Boy and the restlessness of Wanderlust.

English Curse, whose a cappella arrangement showcases Turner´s pleasantly modulated rasp, single-handedly dispels all claims to low culture previously advanced in To Take You Home. Delightfully exemplary of the off-handedness with which Turner tackles high themes, One Foot Before the Other is a frenzied defence of everlasting life, secular-style, a humanistic perspective which seamlessly feeds into Glory Hallelujah. Song for Eva Mae, dedicated to Turner’s goddaughter, perfectly complements Peggy Sang the Blues, a tribute to his grandmother – together, the tracks reinforce the Turnerian tradition of celebrations of the life worth living. Balthazar, Impresario, is an ingenious little oddity of a song about breathing the theatre, and a fitting close to an album named after a line in Shakespeare’s undeservedly underperformed King John.

EKMB synthesises its author’s rock solid foundations into an offering at once as epic as the highlights from POTD and as impeccably consistent in quality as LI&S. Turner has steamrolled over the bar of his own standards with alarming ease. No “must for fans of” and “sounds like”: Frank Turner sounds like Frank Turner.

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