Love, loss and heartbreak are all things Frank Turner knows all too well. All three have been regular themes on the punk-turned-acoustic singer’s past five albums, and his new sixth album Positive Songs For Negative People is no different. But other massive changes have been made. A stark contrast to preceding release Tape Deck Heart, Positive Songs For Negative People is a happier, more positive album (as you can probably guess from the title).
It’s clear that this album is as deeply personal as previous releases right from the get go. In short and sweet opener The Angel Islington, Frank states “I haven’t been myself”, with similar lyrics in the following eleven tracks considerably upping the vulnerability factor throughout the record. This is especially evident in tear-jerking closer Song For Josh, an ode to a friend who committed suicide performed completely live. It’s wonderfully raw and Turner at his best.
And the mention of self-medication also continues into next track Get Better, a slice of pure positivity that is sure to get any listeners fist-pumping as much as they possibly can. The community spirit that has brought Frank this far has clearly influenced the track as well, with an enthusiastic-sounding vocal seemingly encouraging listeners to sing and dance their troubles away. Crowd participation has also been thought about in terms of singalongs. Josephine‘s accompanying “whoa-oh”s are hard not to sing along to, while The Next Storm‘s epic bridge is sure to be screamed back at gigs.
A huge proportion of Positive Songs For Negative People sees Frank veer from the path set for him. Piano parts feature heavily throughout and his sound seems a lot fuller. Both of these statements are true for clear standout track Mittens, a mid-tempo ballad based around a clever analogy which slowly builds into an epic climax of Frank belting out over a choir and brass section.
But the innovation doesn’t always work. Silent Key, a tantalizingly interesting-sounding ode to Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe features female vocals from Esme Patterson, something Turner has never done before. But it’s ultimately a bit of a disappointment after lots of repetitive vocal patterns from both singers leave the song sounding more like a drone. Short, ridiculously fast-paced Out Of Breath should be titled Out Of Place due to its franticness not gelling with the rest of the album at all. And even songs like Demons and Love Forty Down which stick to the classic Frank formula just sound like less good Frank Turner, making them forgettable as a result.
But the biggest disappointment about Positive Songs For Negative People is that most of the songs are about negative topics. It’s a juxtaposition in relation to the album’s title, especially as Frank’s sound has changed to go along with this so-called “positive mentality”. The Opening Act Of Spring disguises lyrics about causing other people pain under a sprightly acoustic riff, leaving you feeling cheated when you discover the real meaning. If it’s supposed to be some kind of metaphor about hiding sadness under happiness, then it’s a bit too philosophical, perhaps even pretentious.
Positive Songs For Negative People boasts songs that will surely go down as Frank Turner classics and become firm fan favourites. But sadly there are a lot less of these than worse or forgettable offerings, and this paired with what feels like false marketing contributes to the frustration felt when listening to this album, as Frank can definitely do better.
For fans of: Billy Bragg, Mumford & Sons, Beans On Toast
Words by Georgia Jackson
‘Positive Songs For Negative People’ by Frank Turner is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings.