Album Review: Frank Turner – Positive Songs For Negative People

It’s only been two years since Turner’s last release – the downbeat, heartbreak-scarred Tape Deck Heart – yet the change between it and Positive Songs for Negative People could not be more palpable. If the former is a sub-zero December day then the latter is the sweltering crescendo of a July heatwave. Having purged his romantic demons in Tape Deck Heart, Frank provides the spiritual antidote to his last album; a sanguine story of rebirth, resilience and err… knitwear.

Before you think Turner has done a complete U-turn on his cynical post-punk ways, it’s important to note that this is the same old Frank, just with an injection of sunny optimism and positivity. The album is still a mish-mash of Frank’s different styles; soft acoustic strings giving way to clashing drums and screaming electric guitars, only to phase into the piano-laden hybrid of the two styles that he’s has become famous for. Fans returning for the sentimental romantic songs will enjoy the piano key-strokes of ‘Mittens’. Followers from his days in punk-rock band Million Dead will enjoy the thrashing ‘Out of Breath’, while those seeking Frank’s unique three-minute storytelling will enjoy ‘Silent Key,’ a tribute to a victim of the Challenger space shuttle disaster.

Whilst enjoyable enough during playing, once finished it’s difficult to remember exactly how they sounded…

The first song on the album, ‘The Angel Islington’ was designed to be a sequel to the last one on Tape Deck Heart – the eerie ‘Broken Piano,’ centered on a spiritual figure playing the minor keys of a shattered piano. Beginning with “By the waters of the Thames/I resolve to start again”, the song sets the optimistic tone of the album with a repetitive guitar-picking tune designed to contrast its predecessor in every way. But by drawing comparisons with ‘Broken Piano’, ‘The Angel Islington’ appears plain, opening the album limply with a soft tune that’s forgotten as soon as the track finishes. This is characteristic of a number of songs on the album: whilst enjoyable enough during playing, once finished it’s difficult to remember exactly how they sounded, or what was said aside from cheesy sentiments stolen from  motivational posters.

After a few listens, it is clear that only four of the twelve songs are worth repeated listening. Firstly, ‘The Next Storm’, a tune strongly reminiscent of previous commercial hit ‘Recovery’ but with more piano and positivity. Next, the aforementioned ‘Mittens’, a slow anti-lovesong reflecting on a relationship that didn’t work out, based around the sad realization that “we used to fit like mittens, but never like gloves.” This has the added bonus of likely being the only song where you’ll ever hear someone shout “I want to fit like gloves!” in it’s final throes. Thirdly is ‘Silent Key’, a tribute to Christa McAuliffe, an American schoolteacher who died when the Challenger space shuttle exploded 75 seconds after launch in 1986. Amongst haunting minor-note infused electric guitars Frank considers the theory that Christa survived the initial explosion and had a two and a half-minute fall to Earth to ponder life. It’s a fairly morbid idea, and the mechanics of the song reflect this with multiple key and tempo changes to create an ethereal space-like feeling that, combined with the completely unconventional and haunting lyrics, is pretty unforgettable.

‘Silent Key’ has completely unconventional and haunting lyrics, and it’s unforgettable

‘Song For Josh’ is the album’s closer; a tribute to Frank’s friend who sadly took his own life. Recorded live at the venue where Josh worked, Frank strips back the background noise to pay tribute to a confidant who was always there for him, but who he ultimately let down in his time of need. “Why didn’t you call?/Why didn’t you say something?/There’s always hope left” are three significant lines in the song which highlight the importance of support for those suffering with depression. It’s a song full of the pure raw emotion which Frank has previously used to strong effect, creating scores of emotionally and ire-fuelled hits, but which he unfortunately decided to not to tap into with the large majority of songs on this album.

Freya Richards 

Freya is currently listening to ‘Agape’ by Bear’s Den

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Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham's IMPACT Magazine.

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