Album Review: Frank Turner - 'Be More Kind'
Winchester's finest delivers his most ambitious but most restrained record yet.
On Turner's previous outing, the misshapen but good natured "Positive Songs for Negative People", he declared "i'm now staring down the barrel of my fourth decade and honestly I am afraid". That one moment of fear on an album celebrating the joy of coming out the other side of a disastrous period of life has blatantly opened up many different avenues of songwriting for St Francis. There's two consistent themes through "Be More Kind" and the counterbalance each other perfectly- in someways musically as well as lyrically (see The Lifeboat) and those themes are fear and kindness. Mostly how you can fight this fear with said kindness. In this phenomenally upbeat and hopeful album, Frank delves into territory he's never previously touched- whilst simultaneously keeping the old guard happy with his trademark big choruses.
Francis is at his best when things are kept at their simplest. The title track is a classic folk protest song over a simple electronic backbeat, synthesised strings and indie disco guitar and is one of the best things he's done in years. "Get It Right" is a future campfire standard and "The Lifeboat" is so complexly written it almost comes off as pretentious but when you're in there, it's so warm and comforting you don't want to leave. Of the old school rabble rousers, "1933" is as stereotypically Frank Turner as it gets and "Blackout" just updates what's been a phenomenal working formula for him. The big songs are when it falls flat though. "Make America Great Again" contains a message that sounds forced amongst the pomposity of it's arrangement and you think that would have worked better with a starker arrangement that would have helped bare its soul a little more. "Brave Face" feels like a lazy country compilation cast off and "Little Changes" sounds like *shudder* Passenger. But when it's bones are bare and it's message simple- "Be More Kind" really sings and stands alone as some of his best work. To compare to Dylan, an obvious influence on the album, Frank is much more comfortable as a "Blood on the Tracks" style confessional (see "Going Nowhere" and "There She Is") rather than the big social commentary that "Bringing it All Back Home" focused on. Intentions are good on this one, but the message is very patchy.
Words by James Kitchen