Album Review: Frank Turner’s ‘Songbook’

With his upcoming seventh studio album described as creativity ambitious and sonically diverse, Frank Turner’s new compilation album Songbook (featuring one new single and ten reworked arrangements of old songs) reminds us that Turner is a master of the singer-songwriter craft, and makes us question the need to stray from his ever-successful formula.

Songbook is a reflective look back down memory lane for Turner and his fanbase, both new and old, featuring eighteen tracks panning all six studio albums. The album’s opener, ‘Four Simple Words’, is a rather fitting one; a staple in Frank Turner’s live set, the song lyrically captures the punk rock ethos of Turner, whilst musically portraying the diversity and raw authenticity of his sound. Whilst songs such as ‘I Still Believe’, ‘Recovery’, ‘The Way I Tend To Be’ and ‘Photosynthesis’ unsurprisingly make the cut, ‘The Road’ is the only track from third studio album Poetry of the Deed to find its way onto the album. Instead, Turner opts to feature five tracks from his latest studio release, Positive Songs For Negative People, including the surprising choice of lacklustre album filler ‘The Opening Act Of Spring’.

Turner successfully captures the excitement and intensity of his live show within these recordings

Whilst this will no doubt split opinions amongst Frank Turner fans, nothing will create greater division than new track ‘There She Is’. Turner has described Songbook as a book-end to the first chapter of his career, as he strays towards a fresh and more innovative sound; ‘There She Is’ supplies the first preview of this. Sonically exciting, the production value on the new single is outstanding, but is unable to cover up surprisingly poor lyric writing. For an artist renowned for his ‘heart on the sleeve’ lyrics and baiting melodic chorus’ and sing-alongs, ‘There She Is’ can be deemed as nothing short of an album filler, thus being a very odd choice for the first glimpse into Turner’s new direction. Whilst the desire to stay innovative must be admired, Turner must remember what he does best, and not sacrifice quality song-writing for the desire to escape being pigeonholed as  ‘the guy with the acoustic guitar’.

The second half of Songbook only amplifies this fact. With ten rearranged versions of old tracks, the true genius of Frank Tuner’s songwriting is conveyed through each song’s ability to be adapted in a number of different ways. ‘Long Live The Queen’ and ‘Photosynthesis’ are rerecorded to their live arrangements, and with 2124 live shows under his belt to date, Turner successfully captures the excitement and intensity of his live show within these recordings. However, real success of the album comes from the stripped back acoustic rearrangements, which highlight the lyrical integrity and musical authenticity of Turner’s writing. Whilst songs such as ‘Josephine’ now sound redolent of Springsteen’s Nebraska, tracks ‘I Am Disappeared’ and ‘The Way I Tend To Be’ now bleed with a new found emotion.

Turner is triumphantly asserting the end of this chapter as a far greater success than he could have ever imagined

The album’s closer, ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’ is fitting, as one of Turner’s oldest songs telling the story of a dead end musical career that never had a chance of going anywhere. Reworked from an acoustic guitar to a beautifully fitting piano piece, the inspiring roar of the closing lyric ‘we’re definitely going to hell, but we’ll have all the best stories to tell’ is Turner triumphantly asserting the end of this chapter as a far greater success than he could have ever imagined. One must simply hope the next chapter of his career still brings with it something of the same.   

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