Album of the Week: Frank Turner, 'Positive Songs for Negative People'


Frank Turner, 'Positive Songs for Negative People'
Frank Turner, 'Positive Songs for Negative People' (© 2015 Polydor Ltd.)

The name of Frank Turner's new (and sixth) studio album is Positive Songs for Negative People — but it could also be his mission statement. Turner, a "lyrics guy," has a created a diverse collection of songs that deal with such topics as a fanciful theory about the space shuttle Challenger, to thinking about the significance of turning 40, to the eulogy for a friend. Perhaps a more accurate title for this album might be "Positive Songs for People Going through Something Tough," but I suppose that's not as catchy. Yet it's clear the theme across the songs is about finding the positive in each situation. It's as if Turner is saying, "Go ahead and see the negative, but you can see the positive too — no matter how obscure it may be."

The album starts off with a sparse acoustic ode to Turner's North London home, in "The Angel Islington," and then promptly explodes into the almost bombastic "Get Better." For a songwriter who began in the hardcore scene, Turner has settled between the two related — yet seemingly unconnected — genres of punk rock and bluegrass. "The Opening Act of Spring" is alt-country influenced and banjo-heavy. "Mittens" is about a relationship where one half didn't feel as in love as the other half. "We used to fit like mittens, but never like gloves." And what's the upside? Now knowing what you want out of a relationship: "I wanna fit like gloves."

"Demons" is poppy, and if you aren't listening carefully, it could be confused for a Hold Steady track — maybe unsurprising given the Craig Finn-fronted outfit is one of Turner's favorite bands. "Silent Key" begins by recalling the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle on Jan. 28, 1986, and proposes that crew member Christa McAuliffe lived for two minutes and 45 seconds as the shuttle tumbled out of the sky, screaming, "I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive," into the radio, only to be heard by a four-year old amateur radio operator. It's a lyrical fantasy that sucks you in, and combined with the building, anthemic music and the voice of Esme Patterson as astronaut McAuliffe, you sense joy.

Positive Songs for Negative People ends as quietly as it begins with "Song for Josh," a live acoustic song recorded at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. It's a eulogy to a friend, Josh Burdette, the former head of security at the club, who took his own life in September 2013. The song begins by grabbing at your heart: "Why didn't you call? My phone's always on. Why didn't you call? Before you got gone." It then launches into a touching tribute that ends with the audience at the 9:30 Club cheering as the album concludes.

That's the thing about the positivity on this record: It's not overt sunshine and happy music. It's about seeing something optimistic in the middle of darkness. It's an attitude to get you through the ups and downs of life, and Frank Turner has put it to words and music.

Audience ratings for this album

Among The Current's listeners who submitted a rating for this album, a full 100 percent of them gave it 5 out of 5 stars. Poll closed at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 21.

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