Music

Frank Turner: England Keep My Bones

Folk-punk hero Frank Turner continues to gather strength with a strong fourth album, but his over-insistent Englishness may scupper his bid to gain more fans.


Frank Turner

England Keep My Bones

Label: Epitaph
US Release Date: 2011-06-07
UK Release Date: 2011-06-06
Amazon
iTunes

In the preface to his novel Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy described Wessex -- the setting for much of his writing -- as "a merely realistic dream country." Although not as snappy as England Keep My Bones, Hardy's phrase might well have made for a good alternative title for Frank Turner's fourth album. For just as Hardy's Wessex was his reimagined version of a historical kingdom, Frank Turner's England is a mythologised version of the place we really live in. Turner, who regards himself as a "Wessex Boy", guides us with his songs through an England where hamlets, villages, and even Exeter are on a par with London, and where any one of us can become a hero. It's an exercise in myth-making with real power, but not one without uncomfortable moments.

Turner's own transformation to musical cult hero began after the demise of the hardcore outfit Million Dead, in which he served as frontman. Taking the aggressive energy and songwriting experience from those years and fusing it with an acoustic everyman persona, Turner has built up an enviable fanbase as a solo artist since 2005, touring increasingly large venues up and down the country. Turner's awareness of the sizeable following he now commands informs much of the songwriting displayed here; by now, he can be sure that when he takes a record out on the road, he will not be the only one singing.

England Keep My Bones has been described by its creator as being about mortality and Englishness, and if that wasn't clear enough from the title -- drawn very deliberately from Shakespeare's The Life and Death of King John -- then it is abundantly apparent from the songs themselves, which are infused with a kind of curious fervour for an imagined, fantasy England. While all this is exciting enough for those who live in one of the many English towns, cities and regions Turner lovingly name-checks, it could border on annoyingly parochial for the vast majority of people who do not. Considering that Turner is admired for breaking down barriers between himself and his fans, this pervasive quasi-nationalism seems like an odd approach; it carries with it as much potential to be exclusive as it does to sweep people up.

Turner's songwriting abilities are undimmed, however, even if his efforts tend to work best when they are separated from his pursuit of an Albion regained. "Peggy Sang the Blues", for example, overcomes its somewhat clichéd sentiment that "better times are coming" by wrapping itself up in piano and a choir to achieve something bordering on the transcendental. "I Am Disappeared" is almost as effective, unfolded expertly to a climax over the best part of five minutes before it fades slowly away.

As the album's themes of redemptive mortality and Englishness play out, however, there is one song which which seems ill at ease with both. The raging rocker "One Foot Before the Other" is essentially a narcissist's last will and testament set to music; the character Turner portrays can barely conceal his glee at the thought of being cremated, poured as ash into "London's drinking reservoirs" and consumed by the city's seven million inhabitants as a means of becoming part of them on an atomic level. While the song is enjoyable on its own terms -- closer to a Million Dead outing than anything else here -- it makes a jarring musical and thematic break with the rest of the record, and is left sounding more than a little out of place.

A few lyrical oddities are unlikely to be enough to displease the legions of fans who, for good reason, have got onboard with Turner's earnest and powerful music. His impassioned vocals are as engaging here as ever, and his band, newly christened the Sleeping Souls after a line in "I Am Disappeared", are on fine form, bringing myriad guitars, drums, organs, and even a mandolin into the mix. England Keep My Bones is evidence enough that the Frank Turner train is still picking up speed, but how far it travels from here depends on how much the man at the controls wants to stick to themes which, for all their epic sweep, just aren't for everybody.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.