Music

Frank Turner Visits 'No Man's Land'

Photo: Karen Dagg / Courtesy of Big Hassle Media

On No Man's Land, Frank Turner celebrates everyone from his mother, a spy, a serial killer, a CPR dummy, to more saintly beings on his tribute to women using only female accompanists.

No Man's Land
Frank Turner

Xtra Mile/Polydor

16 August 2019

Frank Turner's good intentions are clear on No Man's Land. His new release is an album solely about women; relatively well-known historical figures such as spy Mata Hari and gospel singer/electric guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe, obscure ones such as his own mother and the behind the scenes wife of English poet William Blake, and oddball choices including "Rescue Annie" as he invents the biography of the inspiration for the CPR dummies that people practice their lifesaving skills on. Turner is accompanied by an all distaff crew of musical accompanists and produced by Catherine Marks. He's also created a weekly podcast Tales from No Man's Land to provide additional context about the women who populate these songs and explain why he wrote them. Turner's goal to educate and inform listeners about women's history and take the cause into the present and move it forward should be respected.

However, the more important question to ask is not whether Turner's intentions are noble, but instead, is the music any good? The answer for this is positive yet more mixed. Turner has always had a mercurial relationship with his recordings. He's an exuberant, charismatic live performer. I've seen him perform more than a half a dozen times at a variety of venues from open outdoor busking amidst a host of carnival distractions to dive clubs claustrophobic with moshing fans to more formal stage shows. He's always been able to capture the crowd's attention and admiration. His albums, on the other hand, have been more spotty: some have been awesome while others are mediocre.

Apparently, No Man's Land was written before Be More Kind (2018). Many critics lambasted the former punk rocker for his softer folk-rock approach on Be More Kind. But it was an inspiring album that protested and promoted hope, community, and positive change after the election of President Donald Trump. What some people hated about the softer sound, other fans loved, and reviews were widely split. While No Man's Land is clearly not a punk album, it does have a harder sound than Be More Kind.

Consider the pounding drums and harsh guitars featured on "The Lioness" about Egyptian feminist Huda Sha'arawi. The loud musical accompaniment fit the lyrics about a woman who rebels against the sexism of her place and time to declare her independence and self-worth. Several of the folkier tunes, such as "The Graveyard of the Outcast Dead" (an unconsecrated post-medieval cemetery where prostitutes were interred), often start quietly with just Turner's voice and acoustic guitar before building to noisy climaxes. And even the poppier tunes, such as "A Perfect Wife" about serial killer Nannie Doss, contain enough darkness to compensate for their joyful spirits ala the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer". The suggested sounds of glee transform into something much more sinister when associated with the lyrical facts.

That said, the songs' ambitions often exceed their execution. Turner sometimes stretches out a phrase, engages in verbal gymnastics, or gets clumsy in attempts to have the words fit the melodies. On the lovely tribute to the British-born jazz patron Baroness Kathleen Annie Pannonica de Koenigswarter ("Nica"), he immediately follows the line "You only need to hear one piece of advice, each of us only gets one life" with "Nica spent hers flying. She was freer than the French". The clunkiness of the couplet mars the original sentiment expressed.

No Man's Land may be flawed in this respect, but Turner's creativity overrides the defects. In a certain way, the album's blemishes highlight its other charms in the way a beauty mark may positively accent the rest of a person's features. The record and its concept should be applauded for their shared aspirations and accomplishments.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

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.