Thoughts on Frank Turner Songs – “Substitute”

In just a couple of days I’ll finally see Frank on stage again: in Strasbourg next Friday at his solo acoustic tour through France (and a few more European cities). From what I’ve read/seen from other fans on Instagram or Facebook so far, it’s going to be small, intimate venues and lovely sets. Yay!

I’m thrilled to have setlist.fm and Instagram confirm that “Substitute” seems to be a staple at these shows, just like I had expected it to be for an acoustic solo tour. I also kind of expected him to do the song in French, after he had shared a French cover version some time ago and after obviously having sung it in French at one or more shows in Canada in February. It’s a great tribute to the French fans and I love him for doing it. 

“Substitute” is one of my favourite songs because I love (and adore) his use of the English language in these lyrics. But that gets lost in a French translation, at least to me who ended my half-term of optional French in 9th grade after a “failed linguistically” comment on my last test ;-). If he’ll play the song in Strasbourg next week I know I will enjoy the beautifully sound of the French language. But I admit I might miss the thrill of hearing the simple, but beautiful English poetry of this song. Which all made me think, it’s about time to put down my thoughts on this song.

Thoughts on the lyrics mostly, to be honest, because as much as I like listening to music I don’t know anything about it crafts-wise. I like the melody and all, but now that I think about it, even that might mostly be, because the words flow along so evenly rhythmically, if that makes sense? In “Substitute” Frank mostly uses basic stylistic devices, like rhythm, rhyme and alliteration and to me that’s actually the beauty of it. I wouldn’t want him to write all his songs like that, but the abundance of it in this song, works very well for me.

Alliterations like

The first girl that I fell for was a fair and faithful fighter
[….]
The last girl that I loved, she was a low and lusty liar.

and of course the juxtaposition of these two.

I like the rhythm and rhyme of the 2nd part of each verse…

I wish that she had cared for me,
But in the end her ideologies
Occupied the fortress of her heart.
I wrote her 15 songs, but still we had to part.

or

I wish that she had either cared for me or let be me,
But she chased me from mind and from my home.
I wrote her 16 songs, but I ended up alone.

Besides the rhythm and rhyme I admit I also like the brutal honesty in these next few words, even though the sentiment as such is quite sad. Luckily these days are past him, I think.

Well I’ve had many different girls inside my bed,
But only one or two inside my head.
These days I cuddle up to my guitar instead.

There is the lovely imagery of

….not to stumble but to really fall in love.

and all through the song there are a few wonderful fire metaphors like

She smouldered with a will to save the world.

It all comes together in some of my favourite lyrics he has ever written, because I just love that it’s rich with images and once again has the perfect rhythm and rhyme in these lines:

The last girl that I loved, she was a low and lusty liar.
She set my heart on fire, but she made me choke.

Her beauty was a sight to see, but she didn’t save it all for me;
I found other fires by following the smoke.

Seriously, how can you not be in complete awe of this ?!?!?

The song does sound lovely in French, as a lot things do, because it’s such a musical language. But as the English language nerd that I – as a native German – am, I’ll always prefer the original English version and I’m looking forward to hopefully hearing it at the Sensible Sunday during the Lost Evenings in London in May.

Here are also the Youtube links to

Substitut – (French Cover) by Noé Talbot

Substitute in French, Frank in Montreal, 11 February 2017

and one I just came across now is Noé Talbot AND Frank doing the song together at a house show in Montreal. You’ve got to love Frank for doing this, don’t you?

Noé Talbot and Frank at a house show

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