After the post-hardcore band Million Dead imploded, singer Frank Turner grabbed his acoustic guitar and began a solo career. In the twelve years since, Frank released six albums with his backing band The Sleeping Souls and toured throughout Europe and North America (along with stints in Russia and China), and performed sold-out shows at Wembley Arena and O2 arena. He even performed in London 2012 Olympics’ opening ceremony. In 2015, Frank wrote the book “The Road Beneath My Feet,” detailing his musical career starting just before Million Dead’s demise.
The oddest album included here is Buddies, a 10-track LP written and recorded by Frank Turner and Jon Snodgrass in less than two days. There is no fancy instrumentation or anything of the sort, but a group of quirky tracks played using, for the most part, only an acoustic guitar. The result is charming, and the oft-silly lyrics (especially in the tracks “Shut The Chicken” and “Mo’squitoz”) only heightens that impression. Buddies won’t appeal to everyone — it took me more than a few listens to appreciate it — but it’s something different and fun.
Sleep Is for the Week, Frank Turner’s first full-length album as a solo artist, feels as such. Most songs aren’t as confident as what we’d get only one album later, but it’s a strong first effort. “Romantic Fatigue” and “Once We Were Anarchists” are among my favorite Frank Turner tracks, and “The Ballad of Me and My Friends” is easily one of his most enduring songs. “Father’s Day” is a wonderfully painful song about a fractured father/son relationship, and contains the most honest lyrics on the entire album. Yet, switching to the negative, I can’t recall a single note from “Vital Signs”, “Back in the Day”, or “Must Try Harder”. They made zero impression on me.
England Keep My Bones, the fourth full-length album, is warmer than previous albums. The brashness of, for instance, “Try This at Home” (from Poetry of the Deed) is not absent, but reduced in practically every track except for “If Ever I Stray”. Even “Glory Hallelujah”, a song that’s been mischaracterized as anti-God, has a more cordial, inviting sound than expected from the lyrics. Meanwhile, “I Still Believe” is a reaffirmation for the power of rock-and-roll, while “Rivers” and “Wessex Boy” are love letters to, respectively, England and Turner’s hometown.
The second album is a stronger effort that birthed several of his best songs, including “Photosynthesis” (the tune that introduced me to Frank Turner) and the tragic, uplifting “Long Live the Queen”. The bookend tracks — “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous” and “Jet Lag” — are, I imagine, among the most autobiographical songs that Turner wrote to that point. The same for “Substitute”, a song that undoubtedly applies to many musicians (and myself). Unfortunately, Love Ire & Song suffers from a similar problem as Sleep Is for the Week in that songs like “Imperfect Tense” and “St. Christopher Is Coming Home” are genuinely good, but I can’t remember for the life of me.
As exemplified in “Get Better”, “The Next Storm”, and “Glorious You”, Positive Songs for Negative People is a response to Tape Deck Heart’s desperation, featuring tracks focused around surviving trying situations and coming out stronger, or at least alive. That’s not to say everything is upbeat, as “Mittens,” “Josephine”, and “Silent Key” (about Christa McAuliffe, who died after the Challenger explosion) contains a certain amount of darkness, although it’s “Song for Josh” that stands as easily one of Turner’s most distressing and touching tracks. Recorded live, the track was written about Josh Burdette, a friend of Turner who committed suicide in 2013.
The placement of Positive Songs reflects the regular album, not the deluxe edition. That version contains acoustic renditions of the entire album, minus the first and last tracks, and it’s highly recommended. Including those ten tracks gives the next album on the list some serious competition.
Let’s get this out of the way: “Journey of the Magi” is my favorite Frank Turner track. The rest of Poetry of the Deed is excellent, and may be Turner’s most punk album. You have the expected loud, faster-paced songs like “Try This at Home”, “Poetry of the Deed”, and the opener “Live Fast Die Old”, but even the slow-paced ballad “Faithful Son” contains an underlying rebellious spirit. The album has a few clunkers — “Richard Divine” and “Sunday Nights” stand out — but the good (“The Road”!) so heavily outweighs those handful of tracks.
Frank Turner’s breakup album, Take Deck Heart can be rather sullen thanks to songs like “Tell Tale Signs”, “Broken Piano”, and the exceedingly critical “Plain Sailing Weather”. Meanwhile, “Good & Gone” lashes at unrealistic expectations shoveled at us (“And fuck you, Mötley Crüe. . . . . For telling tales that leave out all the dark sides”), and “Losing Days” is about aging. Of course, Tape Deck Heart isn’t a 12-track expression of anger and disappointment. Despite containing lyrics about a lost love, the bridge in “The Way I Tend to Be” reveals a narrator becoming wise about romance. The relatable “Oh Brother” refers to a close friend, and “Four Simple Words” — easily the most punk song on the album — centers around music, touring, and performing.
The only sore point is the meandering “Broken Piano”. Excluding that track, Tape Deck Heart is an outstanding album that happily reminds me of warm temperatures and blue skies due to it releasing during my short stay in Florida. The album made a hell of an impression, more than any other Frank Turner album.
It’s probably cheating to compare Last Minutes and Lost Evenings to the other compilations because, unlike the albums that following, this one contains nothing new. It’s a standard “Best Of” album that pulls songs from before 2013 (so it contains nothing from Tape Deck Heart onward), evidently designed to get Americans up-to-speed on Frank Turner, and that means existing fans won’t find much reason to spend their money. Except for the DVD featuring Turner’s Wembley Arena show, of course. Buy the compilation for a friend, but pocket the concert footage.
Frank Turner’s first Three Years compilation set the standard for his compilations that followed, bundling together covers, live songs, and tracks taken from EPs. I’m familiar with only two covers — “You Are My Sunshine” by Jimmie Davis and ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” — and I’d argue that the latter is possibly the best song on the album. Top five easily. The First Three Years is the weakest of the Three Years, but there’s still good songs to be found, including “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the One of Me” and the political tune “Thatcher Fucked the Kids”. Still, they have nothing on “Dancing Queen”.
As with The First Three Years, The Second Three Years is a collection of covers and rarer songs that don’t all stand with me. Second Thee Years is ranked higher because of the songs I like, I really like. “Balthazar, Impresario” is another favorite Frank Turner song, and I love the painful honesty in “The Next Round.” “Song for Eva Mae”, written for his god-daughter, is an endearing acoustic track, and the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” is second to only the original. The album finishes strong with “Father’s Day” and a cover of “Last Christmas”. Sadly, I just don’t care for the majority of the covers.
Released alongside The First Ten Years, a box set featuring the three Three Years compilations, Ten For Ten is a 10-track collection of rarities. Longtime fans will probably dig the demo for “The Ballad of Me and My Friends”, but it’s the opening song Old Flames, a duet between Turner and Billy “the Kid” Pettinger that grabbed my attention. Also of note is a version of “Redemption” (originally from England Keep My Bones) by Turner’s Pianist Matt Nasir. Ten For Ten doesn’t contain as many songs as any of the Three Years, but it’s quality over quantity.
The third and (so far) final Three Years compilation sticks to the familiar template, but it’s a strong offering thanks in no small part to excellent covers from Queen (“Somebody to Love”), Paul McCartney (“Live and Let Die”), Cory Branan (“The Corner”), and Bruce Springsteen (“Born to Run”). Original songs like “Hits & Mrs” and “Something of Freedom” along with contributions from Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo (“Field of June”) and Jon Snodgrass (“Happy New Year”) are excellent, leaving the live/demo versions of previously released Frank Turner songs as the weakest part. I say that, but this does contain my favorite versions of “Broken Piano” (not a high bar, sadly) and “The Ballad of Me and My Friends”. They’re not my favorite part of The Third Three Years, but I still love them.