Frank Turner’s angry, but that doesn’t mean he’s given up. He knows the world is a mess. Nations have become more restrictive of human rights and rattle their sabers at their own citizens and others. America itself has become more fascist and simple-minded, and yes he means President Donald Trump and Trumpism in particular. Turner, too, wants to make America great again. But for him, the self-evident truth is to “make racists ashamed again” and “make compassion in fashion again”. Turner rails against those that have given up the struggle for a better world. He urges us to put on a “Brave Face” and work for change.
And how does Turner propose we do this? His answer is simple and beautiful. As the title song puts it, “Be More Kind”. The former punk rocker employs a string section to carry the emotional weight of the lyrics that bemoan the fact that the world seems to have lost its mind and that people have become so polarized that they don’t even talk to each other anymore. He reminds us of our common humanity. “So before you go out searching, don’t decide what you will find,” Turner preaches. Keep an open mind and listen to each other. That doesn’t mean being empty-headed and ignoring what is hateful.
“Don’t go mistaking your house burning down for the dawn,” Turner warns on “1933”. The world is becoming a more dangerous place. He furiously delivers his warning message as if he has seen the future as some kind of Nazi Germany and wants to shock us out of complacency. “The first time was a tragedy / the second time it’s a farce,” he laments. As a singer he perceives his impact on world events is minimal, so he heads to the bar. He’s crying in his drink for himself, sure, and also for the rest of us poor slobs who will have to live in this dystopia.
Turner’s past music often expressed political views with passion, but this time is different. He’s not sloganeering or pointing fingers as much as personally engaging with the world in which he finds himself. On “21st Century Survival Blues” he lists the essentials one needs when the harsh winds of the future blow and discovers he just needs a person to love. Turner is afraid of the dark. If he can find another to share his fear, maybe he can wait it out. If all we are is “dust to dust”, as he sings over a disco beat on “Common Ground”, we can find a way to live with each other. He just needs a partner. Partying alone won’t suffice. As listeners, the presumption is that this is our job—to complete the dance.
Meanwhile, Truman tells us not to give up: not to let our hearts turn cold or separate ourselves from physical interactions with each other. He knows that life hurts and love is often painful and wishes it wasn’t that way. Nevertheless, Turner also understands the importance of reaching out to others; that no one is an island unto oneself. “Don’t Worry” he warmly sings on a song with that title, because we are all in this world together. We can console each other. He promises to stand there with us. His empathy rings true. Sometimes the best response to a world gone mad is to deal with others on a one-to-one level.