Music is universal. There are, however, nuances and details that attract different people to different aspects of the art of song. Some people are drawn to the music themselves whilst others are infatuated by lyrical proficiency. Some like minimal sonic soundscapes whereas others just want to dance. I’d like to think that all those elements have influenced my musical tastes over the years. All of this pales into insignificance when compared to the most fundamental reason for enjoying music however. Do they fucking mean it?
Are you watching a glorified boy band or someone who lives for their art? In a musical landscape littered with pretenders and cynical props for record companies, it is sometimes difficult to find an artist you can really connect with on any kind of emotional level. Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes is one such luminary; Bruce Springsteen is perhaps the most famous example but to find the man who’s heart appears more prominently on his sleeve than any other, we must travel to Winchester and Frank Turner.
I came across Frank Turner supporting The Gaslight Anthem at Nottingham Rock City in March 2009. Whilst I love Brian Fallon and his brand of blue collar punk rock, it was Turner who won the day and I have been obsessed ever since, albeit with periods of forgetting all about him. In researching this article I revisited Frank Turner’s sizeable discography and came to realize that his journey from party animal to disenfranchised young man to heartbreak to eventual recovery, mirrors aspects of my own life over the last 10 years. Despite being 5 years my senior, Frank and I have grown up together in a fashion. What follows is a list of all Frank Turner albums ranked from least best to best. Get comfortable…
6. Poetry of the Deed (2009)
Key Track: The Road
Key Lyric: ‘Because there’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music,
and some of them are just like us, and some of them are dicks.’
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard ‘The Road’. Sitting in a muddy field at Leeds Festival, the song barely audible, crackling out of a wind up radio. The sun was beating down, I had a bag full of Strongbow, all was right with the world. I found myself singing along to the chorus before the song had even finished. I saw Frank perform this song the following day to thousands of people. It is one of my happiest Leeds Festival memories.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album was to be a disappointment. That is not to say there aren’t some great moments on Poetry of the Deed. ‘Dan’s Song’ and ‘Try This At Home’ manage to capture the chaotic joy of a Frank Turner live show and ‘Journey of the Magi’ is an epic acoustic ballad but the rest of the album veers between forgettable soft rock and songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Levellers B sides collection.
5. Positive Songs For Negative People (2015)
Key Track: The Next Storm
Key Lyric: ‘Cause I too have stood up on that ledge,
But I know you’d have pulled me back down from the edge
And I let you down in your darkness, I wasn’t there’
It’s really difficult to separate Frank Turner’s 5th and 6th albums as they work better when taken as a companion piece. Tape Deck Heart veers between a dark night of the soul and longing for a recovery but Positive Songs for Negative People sees Turner in full triumphant mode. In terms of songs, Tape Deck Heart just shades it, but PSFNP is a worthy effort with ‘Get Better’, ‘The Next Storm’ and ‘Josephine’ slotting effortlessly into Frank Turner’s live set.
Elsewhere, ‘Out of Breath’ is this albums ‘Try This At Home’ and ‘Mittens’ has a trademark Frank Turner sing along chorus. As with the final track on Sleep is for the Week, ‘Song For Josh’ was recorded live and the raw emotion of the track serves as a fitting tribute to club manager Josh Burdette, who tragically committed suicide aged just 35.
4. Tape Deck Heart (2013)
Key Track: Four Simple Words
Key Lyric: ‘Because I’ve said I love you so many times that the words kinda die in my mouth.
And I meant it each time with each beautiful woman but somehow it never works out.
You stood apart in my calloused heart, and you taught me and here’s what I learned:
That love is about the changes you make and not just three small words.‘
Tape Deck Heart is Frank Turner’s breakup record. Rather than just 12 moody songs about heartbreak, Turner’s 5th album is an eclectic and temperamental beast, that alters in mood and tone from song to song. It is initially galling to hear triumphant call to arms ‘Four Simple Words’ and lovelorn ballad ‘Broken Piano’ on the same record but Turner and his backing band The Sleeping Souls weave in a narrative that makes it work.
Frank Turner albums have have a habit of starting strongly and it doesn’t get much stronger than ‘Recovery’, ‘Losing Days’, ‘The Way I Tend To Be’ and ‘Plain Sailing Weather’. These opening 4 songs bring to mind the gut punch opening of Love Ire & Song and also dismissed Poetry of the Deed as merely a blip rather than a downward spiral.
3. England Keep My Bones (2011)
Key Track: I Still Believe
Key Lyric: ‘Now who’d have thought that after all,
Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all.’
I spoke earlier about Frank Turner and Leeds Festival. He recently played his 10th Leeds Fest and I am 1 behind him on 9, so Turner’s music is synonymous with memories that I look back on with nothing but fondness. If I had to pick one highlight from 9 years and hundreds of bands then Frank Turner playing’ I Still Believe’ for the first time, would be right up there with Pulp closing the festival with ‘Common People’ and Weezer giving the performances of their lives in 2010.
The resulting album is not in the same league as his untouchable first two albums but England Keep My Bones undoubtedly pushed Frank Turner into the public conciousness, after years of being a plucky underdog. So many bands struggle to combine a punk rock ethic with glossy production but Frank Turner has made this his trademark sound. ‘Eulogy’ and ‘Glory Hallelujah’ bookend the album perfectly. I always struggled with the latter as I found the atheist rhetoric quite distasteful. Turner explained in an interview that there are so many religious songs, many of which he has performed himself, so it figures there should be one for atheists. Which is fair enough I suppose.
It took me years to finally warm to ‘Peggy Sang The Blues’ and ‘If I Ever Stray’ but ‘I Am Disappeared’ is an instant classic and remains Frank Turner’s most underrated song.
2. Sleep is for the Week (2007)
Key Track: The Ballad of Me and My Friends
Key Lyric: ‘Well honestly, your honesty, it has emerged unscathed,
And I hope you’re doing fine, because me, I’m doing fucking great.
And I wouldn’t want to waste another second of your time –
I know my place, I know your face,
So you hide yours and I’ll keep to mine.’
Nirvana’s debut album is not a classic album. It features maybe 6 good songs and then a lot of filler. It has become a seminal and important album despite of this however because it is a snapshot of the band Nirvana were before becoming the biggest band in the world.
Frank Turner’s first album Sleep is for the Week is similarly split between classic Turner tracks and forgettable filler. I have picked ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ as a key track as it was the first song to really grab me but I find it a bit dated now. My life is no longer consumed with people who are ‘DJ’s or official club photographers’ or ‘musicians who lack the friends to form a band’ but the song serves as an important reminder of a vacuous past.
The best songs on Frank Turner’s inaugural album stand up with anything he has released since. ‘The Real Damage’ is the perfect introduction to Turner’s booze soaked laments, ‘Vital Signs’ is a sign post to the rootsy patriotism that would dominate England Keep My Bones and ‘Romantic Fatigue’ contains one of Turners most killer choruses. The mawkish lyrics of ‘Father’s Day’ are endearing rather than cloying and the bouncy sing along of ‘Once We Were Anarchists’ is a refreshing wake up call to placard holding lefties.
That leaves ‘Worse Things Happen At Sea’ which should be an indie classic but has instead become a bit of a lost gem in Frank Turner’s back catalogue. The former Million Dead front man struggles to stop the tide of anger and bitterness as the song builds to a wonderfully shouty crescendo.
Sleep is for the Week is the album that launched a legend.
1. Love Ire & Song
Key Track: Take your pick. 12 brilliant songs.
Key Lyric: ‘Well I’ve had many different girls inside my bed
But only one or two inside my head’
For anyone looking for a gateway into Frank Turner’s intimidatingly large back catalogue, listen to the first 6 tracks from Love, Ire & Song. If you are not immediately smitten than you might as well give up. The Winchester singer/songwriters second album is a masterpiece. Critically acclaimed but, bizarrely, not overly so. Adored by fans. It is not just one of the best records of 2008 but one of the best of the decade.
‘Photosynthesis’ has become Turner’s familiar calling card but ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Was Famous’ is just as stirring and ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’ is as good a pop song as you will find anywhere. The latter part of the album is just as strong with the tear jerker ‘Long Live The Queen’ standing as a beautiful confrontation with grief and slow burner ‘Jet Lag’ marking the first really successful slow tempo Frank Turner song.
Normally, I would finish a RANKED feature with a fawning and emotional diatribe about the unbelievable recorded output of said artist. If I’m being honest though, I can’t do that with Frank Turner. Aside from the majesty of Love Ire & Song, I have never really fallen in love with any of his other records, although certain songs will always inhabit a warm place in my heart. With Frank, it is more about the man himself and the memories he evokes than the music. No amount of production will ever capture the experience of seeing Frank Turner live, and I urge anyone who has the opportunity, to find out for yourself.
Me and Frank Turner have grown up together and more than any other artist, his music reminds me of good times, friends and lovers. Thanks for the memories Frank. Hopefully many more to come in the future.