Albion’s own hardcore troubadour goes from strength to strength.
Ian Winwood 2011-06-06
In 1989 Elvis Costello released the song God’s Comic, a tale of a drunken and comical priest who is granted an audience with God. "He said before it had really begun," goes the lyric, "I prefer the one about my son," a line so exquisitely blasphemous that it’s a wonder that no one seemed to notice it. Also taking mischief as his currency, a generation later and Frank Turner closes out England Keep My Bones with a song that sounds like a hymn, and has a title that sounds like a hymn as well. "There is no God, we’re all in this together," he sings, joyously and triumphantly. "There is no God, so ring that victory bell." No danger of the flock failing to notice that, then.
Turner is a nice boy with an unlikely story. Armed with an acoustic guitar he has toured the world and built up a fanbase that is the envy of many a louder band. Last year he supported Green Day at Wembley Stadium and headlined his own sold-out show at the 4,900-capacity Brixton Academy. He has a fine ear for a chewable tune and is possessed of enough verbal articulacy to comfortably wrestle with such notions as what it is to be English – English, mind, not British – without being caught on the defensive. All of this comes with a flash of egalitarian flair that serves to distil the distance between artist and audience down to nothing.
Although production on England Keep My Bones borders on the brittle, and lines such as "everyone stumbles on old cocaine" – what is that "old" doing there, exactly? – are not as incisive as they might be, overwhelmingly this is an exuberant yet quietly sophisticated triumph. On a song such as the musically magnificent Nights Become Days, Turner’s flowering songwriting talents are a joy to hear. But throughout this is an album of sufficient character, quality, daring and charm to ensure that its creator’s unlikely march to the mainstream continues without interruption.