Frank Turner has steadfastly stood by his belief that concept albums aren’t his musical poison of choice, however, given that he is an unwavering ally of all things feminist, it seems fitting that he smashed his imperative to introduce the lesser expressed stories of 13 female figures – 12 historical, and the other who still remains in the form of his resilient and compassionate mother.
While No Man’s Land is unmistakable as the work of ‘Frank Turner,’ it’s important to highlight what really makes this album unique in the first instance – where possible, Frank has swaddled the individual musical tales in the atmosphere of the time in which the women in question existed. He fittingly opens the album with the atmospheric gypsy folk ‘Jinny Bingham’s Ghost,’ which graphically portrays the story of a 17th century “Patron saint of the waifs and strays,” who roamed the streets of Camden Town, and resided in what is now the iconic Underworld venue, that, to this day, provides solace for “all broken boys and girls.” The punchy ‘Sister Rosetta’ then pays homage to the “original sister of soul,” with Turner providing a hearty nod to her own material, both in script and in melody, while highlighting a strong, defiant and fiercely talented black woman, who is believed to have been the first individual to use the term ‘rock’ to define a genre of music. ‘No Man’s Land’ even provides a brief jazz break in the form of ‘Nica,’ an ode to the heiress Nica Rothschild who fought for the Free French and was believed to be heavily interested in jazz music.
Frank also performs in a first-person perspective in instances throughout the album – a decision which he freely acknowledges could be considered to be controversial. However, it is impossible to dismiss the consideration that has been put into this compositional decision, and while it may seem peculiar on the surface, for ‘A Perfect Wife,’ ‘The Hymn Of Kassiani,’ and in particular ‘The Graveyard of the Outcast Dead,’ the story and atmosphere simply couldn’t be illustrated as vividly without this technique.
While Huda Sha’arawi’s musical tribute ‘The Lioness’ is undoubtedly the anthem of No Man’s Land, mimicking the style of ‘1933’, and mirroring the role this song played in ‘Be More Kind,’ however, it is ‘Rosemary Jane’ that undoubtedly overpowers the entire tracklisting. In this song, Frank candidly describes his mother’s unrelenting support for her brood minus the emotional support of a male presence, as she runs the household singlehandedly “…with the money she gets from a man who is dead to himself / And dead to everyone else,” and touches on the role he played in her journey to grey hair, “Each one that’s silver / A reminder that my mistakes add up.” ‘Rosemary Jane’ is a beautifully personal, softly building depiction of Frank’s mother, which draws the album to a close with a polished orchestral melody, juxtaposed with a burst of unfiltered emotion.
Through No Man’s Land, Frank rightfully utilises his male privilege to highlight both the struggles and valiant successes of female historical icons, who were often dismissed and forgotten as a result of their assigned gender. Turner marries his songwriting effortlessly with his unending historical inquisitiveness through presenting varied, thought-provoking verse, alongside his willingness to travel to where they had previously existed, enabling him to delve into their backgrounds and record accompanying podcasts and live song performances. In doing so, Frank makes the lesser-known subjects accessible to those who may not be immediately interested in the topics referenced, through his passion for music, history and feminism.