Album Review – Frank Turner – Be More Kind

Be More Kind, urges Frank Turner: ‘in a world that has decided that it’s going to lose its mind, be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind’. So begins a gentler, but no less insistent seventh album from Hampshire’s favourite folk punk troubadour, a recording which marks a thematically sonic line in the sand for Turner, delicately blending his more trademarked politically charged melodic roar, with a tone of vulnerability and fear.

Turner had initially planned a very different type of album but when reading a collection of Clive James’ poetry, he came across a particularly devastating line which struck a chord: ‘I should have been more kind. It is my fate. To find this out, but find it out too late’. Thus, Turner embarked on a new direction and the result is this haunting thirteen track collection of songs which converge the personal and the political; lays bare our anxieties, the increasing sense that the world is rapidly going ‘collectively nuts’, and enforces the notion that without empathy, we will never learn, never move on: ‘History’s been leaning on me lately; I can feel the future breathing down my neck. And all the things I thought were true when I was young, and you were too, turned out to be broken. And I don’t know what comes next’.

Don’t Worry, Turner implores us, his voice vulnerable and unaccompanied, as the first track begins; reassuring us: ‘don’t let your heart get hardened into stone, or loose yourself in looking at your phone’, the chorus swells, a choir sings and then, almost abruptly, the song ends delicately, as it began with Turner’s lone voice: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, no one has a clue’.

1933 is a more obviously angry yet chilling lament, the title referencing Hitler’s rise to power and as such provides a warning that ‘the first time it was  a tragedy, the second time it’s a farce.. we still have a shower of bastards leading the charge’. This is no tub-thumping, clumsy rhetoric however — Turner’s frustration and anxiety are evident, the hooks jagged, his strangled scream genuine and we are back in more familiar Turner territory: ‘Be suspicious of simple answers, that shit’s for fascists and maybe teenagers, you can’t fix the world if all you have is a hammer’.

Little Changes is more delightfully poppy, a shimmering summery gem, but still the message is clear: ‘we spend our energy getting angry instead of being kinder…the big things stay the same until we make little changes’. What he means of course, is something far bigger: ‘let’s not just pray, let’s make a change’.

Titular track Be More Kind shines for me, sadly melancholic, gentle and imploring; whilst bombastic Make America Great Again is a darkly humourous take on Trump’s rallying cry, ‘making racists ashamed again’; at once voicing affection and satire in one breath, a warning to us all, clearly as valid to those in Europe, as to those across the Atlantic.

Going Nowhere, with its slow beat and repeated mantra, is melodic but less inspiring than its preceding tracks and Brave Face, whilst starting in staccato Turner style, ends with an anthemic, gospel driven crescendo, somewhat at odds with the rest of the album’s less bombastic tone.

There She Is, shines out as the album’s most obviously romantic track — Turner’s love letter to his partner, an enthralling, stripped-down version of the man we see on stage; a simple acknowledgement of the power of redemptive love. ‘Isn’t she everything I need? I needed someone who believed me. I needed someone who wouldn’t leave me. I needed her’. However, this is no saccharine 1980s ballad and taken as an acoustic track when performed live, is mesmerizing in its naked honesty.

21st Century Survival Blues is much more classic Frank Turner— angry, sharp and wonderfully clever: ‘— political Turner is back and this time he’s been listening to Billy Bragg. Similarly, Blackout has smart guitar licks and a catchy chorus, taking us back to the days of power cuts and political helplessness.

Common Ground, with its low-key tempo, suggests ‘there are walls around us to be breached…roll up your sleeves let’s build a bridge’; whilst The Lifeboat is dark and simple, a ballad to hope, to steering a course towards a more positive future.

The album closes with Get it Right, back with Turner and his guitar, a quiet, camp-fire song, which, as with others on this album, really comes alive when performed to an audience. Indeed, much of the album lends itself to live performance, in which Turner’s voice and emotion, his ability to engage and carry an audience, his honesty and passion provide a rallying cry — and with 120 dates already announced, these songs demand to be played and to be heard.

Be More Kind is released today. |


Reviewer: Sally Hamilton

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