On ‘Broken Piano’ at the end of 2013’s Tape Deck Heart, Frank Turner stands on the banks of the muddy River Thames contemplating his failed relationship. He then walks into a studio. Sitting in the corner is an acoustic guitar. Frank picks it up and plays ‘The Angel Islington’ a little benediction for himself, his future, the person he is and the person he will become. He promises he wants “To fix the parts of me I broke, to speak out loud the things I know.” It seems like the “Long road to recovery” might be finally reaching its ending.
Turner, along with his band The Sleeping Souls pick it up. They power through a couple full band sermonesque anthems ‘Get Better’ and ‘The Next Storm’, songs continuously driving messages of self-improvement onto desktop post-it notes. This, the beginning of Turner’s sixth studio release Positive Songs for Negative People plays out like a Frankie T narrated, gritty remake of the endings both A Christmas Carol and The Wizard of Oz. Turner, beginning in a place of futility, self-deprecation and devastation has now seen the light. Due to living miserably for so long, the new found light pours out from every possible piano crevice, guitar scratch and vocal orifice on the album.
In interviews Turner has repeatedly stated he’s ready to turn(er) the corner after 2013’s “downbeat,” release Tape Deck Heart. The critically acclaimed album deals with Turner’s relationship troubles as well as self-harm, lost friends, and hopelessly spiraling depression. Coming off the heels of that album Positive Songs creates an unbeatable narrative just short of a Rocky story, at least in Turner’s own mind. It makes for a great narrative but the listener is tired of it by the time ‘Josephine’ rolls around. When a listener with one of his inspirational lyrics tattooed across his chest (this one) thinks the newly-motivated narrative is tiring, that’s a problem.
Frank’s message is no longer let the fears of death and insecurity reach you, but songs like ‘Glorious You’ and ‘Demons’ nudge the audience with inspirational eye rollers. These songs make Frank seem aloof to the listener in terms of content; instead, he seems preoccupied with his own personal recovery. Pompous and cliched lyrics like, “Life gave me demons but I made friends with the devil, so I’m invincible,” and “Come on now if we all pull together we can lift up the weight of the world from your shoulders,” are totally unearned at the point of their delivery. ‘Demons’ is by far the weak point of the album. It stars Frank delivering a rhyme scheme and cheap hook reminiscent of the Goo Goo Dolls.
Throughout Turner’s career he has “written like a diary” and Positive Songs is no different. Despite its similarities to his other works however, Turner performs at an all-time high of selfishness and preachiness. The song ‘Out of Breath’ sounds confrontational, “You can run, you can hide, you can bitch and you can whine but you’ll never save your life,” Frank, who’s bitching here? For a man who has constantly made music about himself, banking on the empathy of others, this isn’t the message you want to send to an audience that filled up Wembley.
Though Frank seems to have dropped the beans at the centre, the finale hits the record’s creative peak. ‘Josephine’ sounds like a release. It’s a stadium sized anthem worthy of the venues Turner will inevitably find himself playing for a long time. ‘Love Forty Down’ and ‘Silent Key’ screech, stretch and sprint the album to its finish. The album’s stakes rise and Frank follows through on them. In “Love Forty Down” Turner faces an aging, loveless life where he’s, “Staring down the barrel of his forth decade,” but he’s determined to face it. ‘Love Forty Down’ transitions into ‘Silent Key’, a bombastic, build up song featuring Colorado vocalist and Shakey Graves backup singer Esme Patterson. The narrative of Frank watching the shuttle challenger explosion as a four year old chills and compels the listener preparing them for the finale.
One the finale ‘Song for Josh’ we hear Turner in a vulnerable state for the first time since the opener. Frank plays a loving tribute to 9:30 club manager Josh Burdette who took his own life last year. He paints his memories of Josh with vivid images, faint music and fragile lyrics. This track conveys the message of the album better than the previous 11. The most profound thing about this song is it presents Frank, live on stage, alone, singing about his friends in a small club. Time may change a lot, but some things they stay the same.