Review: Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones

Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones
Record Label: Xtra Mile/Epitaph
Release Date: June 6, 2011

Frank Turner seems to have exploded recently. Support slots on Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour in the US and increasingly large headlining shows back in the UK with bands as big as Against Me! supporting, combined with the ever growing popularity of singer-songwriters have made him bigger than ever and dabbling with mainstream charts and interests. While this success is totally deserved, it was the mainstream “rock” sound, complete with full electric band in tow, that led to some fans being disappointed with Turner’s last effort Poetry of the Deed. The bad news is that if you were one of those people then England Keep My Bones will do little to change your mind. The good news, however, is that the rest of us shouldn’t care if it’s the stripped back acoustic or the fuller band sound, because yet again Frank Turner has crafted one of the best albums you’re likely to hear this year.

Opener “Eulogy” is an opener both in style and in placement, and is this kind of slow building anthemic rhyme that really gets a crowd going. With tempting lines ‘on the day I died, I’ll say at least I fucking tried and that’s the only Eulogy I need’ you just know every fan in the crowd will be with him, echoing not just the words but also the sentiment back. The album in general keeps this feel of camaraderie strong throughout, echoing loyalty and love between not just friends, as has always been a strong theme in Turner’s recordings, but also family on “Peggy Sang the Blues,” fans on “I Still Believe” through the ridiculous but also genius idea of recording the crowds from the festivals at Reading and Leeds 2010, and most importantly location.

If you couldn’t guess from the title, Turner is vehemently proud of his English home on this album, with patriotism flowing through several of the songs. The impressive thing is that it never feels exclusive. It’s incredibly easy to turn patriotism into nationalism and leave the impression that England and the English are the pinnacle and everyone else falls short, a problem sadly all too occurrent in popular English culture and society at the minute. Turner impressively manages to completely avoid any of this by personalising his ideas and sharing some of his most personal emotions with the listener, making the whole experience one of inclusion not exclusion. As an Englishman there is definitely a strong sense of pride you can feel listening to songs like “Rivers” and “If Ever I Stray,” but the way the songs are sung means those of other nations can feel nothing but the love in the song and embrace it themselves, maybe thinking of their own loyalties in Turner’s words.

Lyrically Turner is as brilliant as ever. His words seem to channel exactly what his fans believe and say. Lines like ‘I still believe that every one can find a song for every time they’ve lost and every time they’ve won’ and ‘love is free and live is cheap and as long as I got me a place to sleep, some clothes on my back and some food to eat then I can’t ask for anything more’ have the inimitable trick of being both broadly relatable to, but also deeply personal. It’s a cliche to say, but it’s like the songs are being sung directly about you, even though you know they’re not, and that’s a skill Turner seems to have perfected. Even on more difficult themes like mortality and religion, areas where not everyone will show the same atheistic conviction he sings of on “Glory Hallelujah”, the expression carries them through. A devout religious figure will probably have some discomfort singing the lyrics ‘there never was no God’ but again the song doesn’t feel like it’s an attack on religion. It’s put forward with such poetry and passion that it’s more a celebration of where Turner is in life and the road he took to get there.

As I mentioned before, this is no longer pure folk music. The number of electric songs significantly outweigh the stripped back acoustic numbers (although the ratio diminishes somewhat if you buy the beautifully packaged special edition with extra tracks) and this is a problem for some people that there is just no way to get around. Similarly the rougher production of Sleep is for the Week has been sacrificed more a much cleaner sound throughout, and although it suits the songs, it will still disappoint some. Songs like “Nights Become Days” and “English Curse” still have the sparse feeling that was laced through Turner’s earlier albums but if you yearn for that sound throughout then you’ll be left wanting. The full sound dominates the other tracks, but they’re so joyous and passionate that it’s impossible not to fall for them, even if it takes a couple of listens. “Peggy Sang the Blues”, “If Ever I Stray” and “Wessex Boy” are perfect examples of how uptempo and upbeat songs don’t have to be disposal pop tracks that you forget seconds after they’ve finished.

Lyrically and musically, Frank Turner has completed a fantastic album, and one that will probably be on many critics Best Of 2011 lists at the end of the year. It might not be folk in its style and execution, but it’s ideas, passion and camaraderie are themes that have coursed through the folk scene in practically every one of its iterations throughout the years. There is little here not to like if you’re willing to let yourself, so ignore your folk pretensions and celebrate one of the most joyous, sincere and well-written albums you’re likely to hear all year.


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