Frank Turner began his music career as vocalist in the post-hard-core, late John Peel endorsed band, Million Dead, has been on Celebrity Mastermind (Iron Maiden, not T. S. Eliot was his specialist subject), the Eton rugby team alongside Prince William, played more solo shows than U2 (despite U2 starting out five years before Frank was even born!), received many death threats, developed his political views (infuriating both the “militant left” and the “political right”), been called a “twerp” by Labour MP Kerry McCarthy and restarted old bad habits (including taking up smoking again at aged thirty two). One thing is indisputable; Frank Turner “definitely has the best stories to tell”.
Songbook comprises of eighteen tracks across his six solo albums, a new song, There She Is and ten new interpretations of songs from Frank’s solo back catalogue. With thirteen of the eighteen back catalogue tracks taken from his last three albums (the latter two reached number two in the album charts); the latter half of his career is well represented. The main criticism is that Frank’s earlier, less commercial solo work is exhibited on just five tracks; nonetheless, Turner’s conveying of meaning, diction and passion is superb.
On Photosynthesis, Frank sings that he “won’t sit down, And I won’t shut up, And most of all I will not grow up”. The reworking’s of his songs are interesting. Is Frank now growing up? There are many signs of maturity, or at the very least; professional (mixing and sound engineering) development. The reworking of Josephine is beautiful. The haunting acoustic arrangements are reminiscent of those on Patrick Wolf’s Sundark and Riverlight double album, which help Frank (already a craftsman at expressing emotions) take the listener on a new journey. Only a soulless being would not be roused as he sings, “I could have been Napoleon, could have been Beethoven, Could have been anyone but uncomfortable me. So come on now Josephine, show yourself to me.” Similarly, the new mellower and sanguine version of The Way I Tend To Be rivals his original with similar arrangements to The Levellers, Angel. The Ballad Of Me And My Friends makes good use of sophisticated Adele style piano arrangements. Not all of the reworking’s take a mellower, more mature path. Long Live The Queen is amplified; the acoustic guitar is virtually ditched.
Based on the reworking’s of his old songs alone; it is almost inevitable that Frank’s future material will cover new ground. Whilst some have accused Frank Turner of saying and doing things that are unacceptable; nonetheless, Turner has always been open about “his own capacity” and his “reactions to” his own “frustration(s)”. Frank’s approach to the interesting times we are now living in requires us all at the bare minimum to listen and hear him: “You don’t want to be saying ‘I hope everything’s shit so that we get some good records’ – and actually music doesn’t matter half as much as the social and economic safety of the minorities.”