PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
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

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


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.