– by Michael Ritchie, staff writer –
Frank Turner is one of those performers who is utterly prolific but isn’t nearly as well known as he deserves to be. With a solo career stretching back to 2005 (and time in bands taking his career back even further), he has in that time furnished the world with six studio albums, several EPs and compilation albums, and a performance at the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London. He’s no shirker.
Born in 1981 in Bahrain, Turner is nonetheless English to the bone, a theme that occurs in many of his songs. He grew up in the south of England, and attended Eton College alongside Prince William. Once a member of post-hardcore band Million Dead, he performed heavy punk music, but as a solo artist predominantly focuses on a folk-punk hybrid. He is also, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest lyricists working today, if not ever.
I discovered him through a friend perhaps eight years ago, and from that moment on, I’ve found myself relating deeply to almost every word he’s ever sung. His songs are full of clever references to history, literature, mythology and politics, demonstrating his strong education. A master at capturing the torment of your 20s, he offers a song for us all no matter what we are going through: the struggle of trying to find who you are through those tricky years, the disenfranchisement of youth and our rediscovery of politics, the realities of drug addiction, and how to pick yourself up again when the world has knocked you black and blue. Here are seven of the best.
“Photosynthesis” from the album Love Ire & Song
This song introduced me to Frank’s work, and I think most people in their 20s can relate to at least parts of it. In the lyrics, Frank is lamenting that he’s starting to feel old, he doesn’t understand the latest music or slang, and while all his friends are getting “married, mortgages and pension plans,” he doesn’t yet feel ready to grow up. In short, he doesn’t want to spend his life merely photosynthesising – he wants to be out there, doing something fun and creative and never having to become a slave to the man. It is perhaps wishful thinking, but it’s a wonderful anthem against mediocrity and conformity.
“Reasons Not to Be an Idiot” from the album Love Ire & Song
We all occasionally feel like we’re doing something wrong, and everyone else around us has their lives together. This is covered in a later song of his “We Shall Not Overcome,” too, but it’s far more blatant in this earlier track. Frank tells the listener that “you’re not as messed up as you think you are” and points out that your friends are just as screwed up and lost: “she’s not as a pretty as she thinks she is” and “he’s crap and dancing, and he can’t hold his drink.” Deep down, he says, we’re all the same. The main takeaway from the song is that life is not for sitting at home feeling sorry for yourself: “get up and get down and get outside.”
“Faithful Son” from the album Poetry of the Deed
A beautiful song supposedly aimed at his parents, in this song Frank tells his mother and father that while he loves them and will always be their “loving and your faithful only son” he can’t necessarily go through life with the same ideals and values that they once had. It’s an argument for parents not living vicariously through their children, and how differences of opinions between the generations don’t mean that you can’t still love each other.
“Wessex Boy” from the album England Keep My Bones
England Keep My Bones is the album that England and Frank’s heritage seem to have had the most influence on. In this song, he talks about his hometown of Winchester. Even if you’ve never visited or even heard of the place, there’s a sense of that strange unerring love most people have for their hometowns. Sure, they might be a bit crap, but they’re yours. He tells us that there wasn’t much to do, most evenings spent “hanging out and drinking in the cathedral grounds,” but no matter where else you go, it will always be there to go back to and “despite the little changes, this place still feels the same.”
“Polaroid Picture” from the album Tape Deck Heart
This song has an almost haunting tune that reminds the listener time is forever moving on and it isn’t going to stop for anyone, so stop and smell the roses. Or, in this case, “while you can, take a picture of us” because “we won’t all be here this time next year.” While I’m lucky to have had many of the same friends for very long periods of my life, there are definitely those that fall by the wayside, often not because of an argument or falling out, but simply due to geography and lifestyle. As Frank says here, “the only thing certain is that everything changes.” Taking photos will remind you that, no matter how bad things get further down the line “there was this one time when things were OK.”
“This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the One of Me” from the album The First Three Years
In this song, Frank sings about his desire to leave home after he finds himself at another house party: “the night lies out before my eyes, there’s no new faces, no surprises.” He can’t date anyone here anymore because “I don’t want all her exes to be people I know.” It’s not that he hates it, in fact he says, “I still want to be buried here” but adds “I’d prefer it if you wait until I’m actually dead.” Sometimes we all need a bit of an escape.
“Get Better” from the album Positive Songs for Negative People
This is the ultimate feel-good anthem, and can drag anyone out of a slump and convince them that the world isn’t such a terrible place. Here Frank reminds us that we are stronger than we think we are: “I’m a machine and I was built to last” – and that your friends will be there to help you out along the way. We can always improve and giving up is never an option. It has one of the most powerful messages that can apply to everybody: “we can get better because we’re not dead yet.”
If you still aren’t convinced, look him up and I can pretty much guarantee that soon you will encounter some lyrics that strike home so deeply that you’ll think he’s stolen your thoughts. Happy listening!
Michael can usually be found sitting in a comfortable corner with a glass of wine and a good book. He has a collection of shoes that would impress Imelda Marcos.