England kept his bones, now Trump wants to watch them burn. For a good five years Frank Turner has largely steered clear of politics in song, having dug into folk history to explore “the English identity” on 2011’s ‘England Keep My Bones’, and subsequently been dubbed a mini-Morrissey for discrediting the left and aligning himself with libertarianism (after numerous death threats, he later clarified his political position as “classic liberal”). Following two Turner albums of personal exorcism – 2013’s exquisitely broken ‘Tape Deck Heart’ and 2015’s redemptive ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’ – the barricade against right-wing opinion that he once mischievously kicked at has broken, and the world has spun a dark enough dance that even the soapbox-averse Turner feels urged to musical arms. He spends his seventh album considering the dire state of the world from multiple angles and, unlike the tidal wave of terrified tin-pot politics plonked incongruously in the middle of every alt-rock album for the past eighteen months, he even proffers some tentative answers.
‘Be More Kind’ opens with ‘Don’t Worry’, a reassuring gospel-folk plea for sanity, calm and human connection – rather than social-media isolation – in a world gone wild. “I don’t know what I’m doing, no-one has a clue,” Frank tells Britain’s bewildered generation, “but you’ll figure it out, I might too”. From there he spends the opening half of the record tackling Brexit and Trump with a passion and vitriol that he’s recently only been directing at himself – with inspiring results. ‘1933’ astutely likens the West’s poverty-inspired rightwards swing to Hitler’s ascent to power by blaming immigrants for the desperate state of early-‘30s Germany; amid some of Turner’s fieriest rabble-rock bluster, he reflects the confusion and ignorance of the age. “I don’t know what’s going on anymore!” he yells, though he clearly does: “Don’t go mistaking your house burning down for the dawn,” Turner warns, “be suspicious of simple answers, that shit’s for fascists and maybe teenagers”. A few tracks later he addresses Trump’s ascendance and the moral decline of America on ‘Let’s Make America Great Again’. Frank’s solution: “Making racists ashamed again/Let’s make compassion in fashion again”.
Frank broadens his theme in the album’s latter half to cover ever wider global catastrophes. ‘Brave Face’, a rousing stadium tonsil-burster, finds Turner hoping to snog his way through the apocalypse; ‘21st Century Survival Blues’ has him stockpiling tinned food and barricading the door against climate change’s ice-storms and fireballs; the catchy, electropop ‘Blackout’ cheerily predicts the chaos of the day the electricity finally runs out. But through disasters environmental and political, Frank keeps returning to that running thread: compassion, understanding, connection, love and kindness – and occasionally booze – being our strongest weapons against the racists, fascists and Brexiteers. “In a world that has decided that it’s going to lose its mind/Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind,” he sings on the title track, a gentle chamber-folk wonder that should be proudly subtitled ‘A Snowflake’s Lament’. It might sound a trite and meatless sentiment, but it’s a core tenet of British decency fast being forgotten.
If there’s one battle Turner won’t be joining this time round, it’s the one against pop music devouring rock like industry pack wolves on a wounded bison. ‘Make America Great Again’ knobbles Bastille’s synthetic faux-rock feel – essentially the sound of Frank begging Radio One for a hit. ‘Common Ground’ is virtually (gulp) minimalist R’n’B, self-consciously sitting midway between Radiohead and Justin Timberlake. But there are delightful echoes of The Cure’s ‘Close To Me’ in ‘Little Changes’ and The Maccabees in ‘There She Is’ – and a lustrous chamber-folk tone to ‘Be More Kind’ and ‘The Lifeboat’ that makes them sound as though they’ve been dipped in a loch, bringing a fresh grace to Turner’s ever-refining balladry. Plus, there’s plenty more evidence here that Frank remains one of our most consistently punchy, stirring and chaff-free songwriters – now, finally, with Something To Say Again.