Frank Turner has had one hell of a career since the end of Million Dead back in 2005. He has played 1708 solo shows (as of Sunday the 9th of August 2015) and released six albums. That’s not even mentioning side projects like the brilliant Mongol Horde. In that time, he’s risen from playing the back rooms of pubs to a handful of people, to selling out arenas, all seemingly off the back of word of mouth and good songs. It’s a journey that now continues with Positive Songs for Negative People.
More interesting than the miles, at least from a fan point of view, is the musical journey that Turner has taken during that time. 2007’s Sleep is for the Week and 2008’s Love, Ire and Song saw Frank embracing the role of a punk rock troubadour. Picking up an acoustic guitar and singing campfire songs about hitting the road, loving music and good times. Looking back on them now there’s a real optimism to them. From there The Sleeping Souls really come into their own and a fleshing out of his sound begins on Poetry of the Deed and England Keep My Bones. The acoustic was still there, but it was bigger and more ambitious. Sadly, at least from Frank’s point of view, we then got Tape Deck Heart. It was an album built on personal troubles, which seemed to signify the arrival of a melancholic, older and more beat up Turner.
Which brings us to the modern-day, where he’s getting up again and battling on. Positive Songs for Negative People is a man coming out the other side of that darkness and as he sings ‘it’s time to start again’ on the fragile opener ‘Angel of Islington’, you can almost feel him rising to his feet. This then cascades into the wonderfully defiant ‘Get Better’. Where Frank declares that ‘we’re not dead yet.’ It’s an opening two punch that will have the hairs on your arm standing to attention and it’s a signal that Turner is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Musically this is as much The Sleeping Souls’ album as it is a Frank Turner one. As noted, each album has seen their presence grow more and more and here that reaches its pinnacle. This songs may still be rooted in Turner’s acoustic past, but on the surface this is a full band, rock and roll release. The fact that the Souls are as good as they are makes that a joy. On tracks like ‘Love Forty Down’ you can’t imagine it being done in any other way and it adds a real oomph (for lack of a better word) to these songs, which might have been lacking otherwise. For those who do wish to stick to the acoustic however, there is a deluxe version of the album that comes with a second CD full of the same songs, but all done in that style. To be perfectly honest that’s a completely different review, as the acoustic version’s of the songs play in very different ways, but I can say that it is well worth a look.
Back to the main album and Turner’s ear for a lyric is still very much alive. In that sense the album highlight is ‘Mittens’, a song which opens with the story of Turner buying postcards in New York. It’s one of the more introspective tracks on the album, as he reflects on a relationship with the words ‘we used to fit like mittens, but never like gloves’. Tonally it comes closer to Tape Deck Heart, but still works here, and may be one of more accomplished song’s he’s ever written. It’s not the only sad point on this album though, with ‘Song for Josh’ closing things off with a real heart wrencher. A track about someone who committed suicide, its relatively simple arrangement and lyrics just add to its power. The decision to have the album close with it is an interesting one. It leaves you with the sense that even in among the defiance, bad shit still happens and we shouldn’t forget that.
Look, let’s not beat around the bush here, I am a huge Frank Turner fan. If you haven’t figured that out then you probably aren’t paying attention. However, taking any internal bias I may have away, I still believe Positive Songs for Negative People will stand as one of the best albums he’s done. It’s the sound of a musician who has really grown and hit his stride and while that punk rock spirit is what still drives his music, that little bit of maturity just makes it all the more powerful. Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls are one of the best double acts we have right now and if they keep creating music this good, that career ain’t going to stop anytime soon.