Frank Turner - The Second Three Years

An essential addition to any collection for both ardent Frankophiles as well as those just discovering him.

Label: Xtra Mile

Rating: 7

Against the current climate of anticapitalist sentiment being writ large on a grand, global scale and the difficulties of the ongoing recession highlighting that perhaps, just maybe, there are some downsides to basing most of western culture and economics on encouraging consumerism and living off credit rather than actually making stuff, it may seem crass to draw a parallel between bands/artists and branded goods. But to take the long, cynical view for a moment, they are both commodities of a kind. You have the Rihannas and One Directions of this world, who produce mass disposable pop, that looks like nice, shiny plastic when it’s fresh off the factory line but doesn’t age well – like a cheap ly made but overpriced pair of ‘on trend’ 5-inch heels from River Island that’ll break the third time you wear them. And then you have individuals such as Frank Turner, who are like a pair of carefully distressed leather boots from Clarks, that seem expensive at first, but prove their worth over years of wear, transcending current styles through classic design and quality workmanship (luckily, the artist-as-shoe metaphor works well, as the first song on here is a wistful ditty called ‘Sailors Boots’).

Acting as a timely stopgap between last summer’s phenomenal – and shockingly overlooked – ‘England Keep My Bones’ and his highly anticipated massive Wembley date in two months time, this is Frank’s second collection of rarities, covers, and B-sides, which in itself is a good sign: if you’re crazy productive enough that you have plenty of good stuff left over from your last bona fide release, and can fashion a new one out of it, then it means you must know what you’re doing. A wordsmith and craftsman of the highest order, Frank tells poignant and clever tales against a backdrop of melodies that sound deceptively simple, but can in fact be fiendishly difficult to recreate if, like this reviewer, you’re the kind who likes to try this at home on your own six-string.

Eschewing the tightness of ‘England Keep My Bones’, this is really a collection of odds and ends and has all the variety that entails. ‘Pass It Along’ is an early highlight and stands out with a middle 8 that comes from nowhere to blast you with its truth and beauty: ‘sing for the records you played ‘til they broke / for the parts where you insisted that nobody spoke / sing for the words that you know but they still make you choke’. From mid tempo to uptempo, ‘To Absent Friends’ possesses the manic, whirling energy of Green Day at their best and effectively bottles the heady anticipation of an excellent night on the town. But it’s the quieter tracks that leave their mark. A bonus track from ‘England…’, ‘Wanderlust’ has an opening line that’s pure poetry, ‘I have wept until I’ve slept into the lap of the lady that I love’, and holds an aura of windswept desolation about it that really makes you feel Frank’s singing this as he’s halfway out the door. ‘Sally’ has the brisk, folk yearning of the Levellers at their best, with warm and compelling vocal tones, while ‘The Next Round’ is one of the most affecting tracks, a gentle but tortured ode to a pleasure/pain relationship with drink. Frank takes a moment to celebrate his interest in the heritage of Olde England and share it with us on live cut ‘Barbara Allen’, a traditional folk song sung entirely acapella. Always singing with feeling, it’s serves as a nice reminder that he can sometimes lay aside the yelping and shouting for a sweeter sound. ‘Mr. Richards’ and ‘The Quiet One’ displays Frank’s ever-observant eye for social satire, the former being a tale of suburban drudgery, and the latter coming off as a deranged gothic melodrama.

Perhaps appropriately for an artist who stamps his own experience and personal philosophies on everything he does, the record only falters with the mixed offering of cover songs attempted. Take That’s ‘The Greatest Day’ and ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham! are completely unremarkable, but ‘On A Plain’ is a decent, earthy rendition of the Nirvana original – only paling in comparison to the muted reggae cover Little Roy did on last year’s ‘Battle For Seattle’. ‘Thunder Road’ is more successful, removing the plinky plonky piano of Springsteen’s original and replacing it with a flickering, mournful introspection. But ‘Build me Up Buttercup’ is the real surprise; sounding world-weary and bitter, Frank sneers out the words of this cheery classic, casting it in a new and considerably more sinister light. The simple guitar arrangement foregrounds the lyrics: if you didn’t think that Buttercup was a masochistic bitch who likes to keep her man forever waiting before, then you will afterwards.

Much like Nirvana’s ‘Incesticide’ or Smashing Pumpkins ‘Pisces Iscariot’, this is an excellent record in its own right, and an essential addition to any collection for both ardent Frankophiles as well as those just discovering him. Like a pair of new leather shoes, this record may take a few goes to get broken in and truly comfortable with - but once you get there you’ll know you’ve invested in something built to last.