Another (Highly Subjective) “Songbook” Album Review

And here is another post about Frank Turner. Surprise! Not really these days, is it? Various music blogs or magazines have already posted album reviews of his latest release “Songbook”, an album which is part “best-of” and part “alternative versions” of Frank’s (first) 12 years as solo artist. I feel a bit bad about calling him a solo artist, when the Sleeping Souls are such an integral part of his sound and shows. But in the end it is his “thing” and the Souls are the last to deny that, I think. Nigel stated as much in the “Get Better” film.

As there already are various reviews out there, I admit I hesitated a bit to write another one. I’m not a (music) journalist. I’m not even a musician. Last night, when I was trying to gather my thoughts after I’ve for the first time listened to Disc 2 – Songbook Versions – I once again realized that not only do I lack the right words (lingo, terminology, whatever) but also some understanding of music as such (about tempi and instrumentations and keys and chords and everything) to describe why I like this or that song or version. But… that won’t stop me ;-) This here is my very own “Hyde Park Corner” of the internet after all. 

“Songbook” Disc 1 includes 19 songs from Frank’s first six records (2007 – 2015) in their original recordings. The Best of. The Classics. Whatever you want to call this collection. I like all of those songs quite a lot and I think they are a great introduction to Frank’s music; to his sound and to his way with words. Yes, there are songs I like even more than those in this collection. We all have our favourites for a variety of reasons and I wrote about those songs on many, many occasions here. Fangirl / (muscial uneducated) nerd, that I am, I would still like to know why he chose these songs or how difficult it was to narrow it down to these. The first time I looked at the order of songs in this collection I was also wondering why they were put together in this order, but now that I’m listening to it, I have an inkling of an idea. In a way listening to them in this order feels like a set of any regular Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls gig. Not necessarily because he plays these songs in this order at a gig, but in general. 

Starting with some fast-paced songs (here Four Simple Words, I Still Believe) to get the crowd singing and dancing and jumping and to keep doing this with his variety of older and newer songs (The Road, Glorious You) for the first half. Just like at a real gig I could have done with at least one more acoustic song besides Prufrock as a breather in the middle of this collection. Because even while I’m sitting here typing, I’m not just singing along but also dancing in my chair and yes, I did raise my hands from the keyboard to do jazz hands during the first chorus of Glorious You. Anyway, after Prufrock comes the sing-a-long part of the set (Wessex Boy, Opening Act of Spring) to be followed by some more dancing. And just like at a regular gig an acoustic song – here Ballads of Me and My Friends – is leading into the big finale of Photosynthesis and Get Better

Or maybe I’m just reading to much into this ;-). I didn’t even want to write all that much about Disc 1, as these are songs in the versions I know them from the records. Plus the new song There She Is, but I’ve written a few words about that one and how excited I am for the new musical direction two weeks ago.

Sharing my thoughts about Disc 2 is where my lack of musical lingo bothers me a bit, but here I go. I admit for some songs I also listened to the original or any good live recordings to get a feel, why this Songbook version sounds so different. The ★☆ this time are more about how I like this version compared to the original and less about how I like the song in general. Although… Spoiler Alert: Broken Piano only got the second ★ because I like this reworked version much better than the original one.

Photosynthesis ★★★★☆ 
This version doesn’t stray all that far from the original recording. It feels a bit faster and louder than the album version and less folks-y as there are no violin, but more electric guitar and drums. It’s pretty much the live version, I’m used to. Listening to it I can almost see Nigel hitting the base drum and jumping up and all of us in the crowd jumping up with him and dance around like crazy.

The Way I Tend To Be ★★★★★ 
OMG! Why didn’t we hear this version ever before? It’s the song I’ve heard live the most (according to my nerdy spread sheet, 22 out of 25 times), but never ever in this beautiful version. I do like the original recording, live especially and in particular when Frank introduces it with the funny Eucalyptus / Koala bear story. But because it’s such a dance and sing along staple at the shows, I tend to forget that lyrics and story-wise it’s actually quite a sad song. After all it is about the end of a relationship and about him having messed it up. So this slow version with Frank (and the Souls in the background) singing in a lower key and with spare instrumentation capture the heartbreak and melancholy of these lyrics so much better than the original song. I love it and hope to hear this version live at some point as well

Glorious You ★★★☆☆ 
Even though I do like the original fast paced version, especially to sing along to at a show, I might by now prefer the original acoustic one (from the bonus acoustic version of the PS4NP album) a bit more. This one here is an interesting change to the acoustic version. It’s still soft and slow, but the extra instrumentation and beat create kind of a country vibe. I like it. I might still like the pure solo acoustic guitar version a tiny bit better though.

Josephine ★★★☆☆ 
I’m a bit on the fence about this slowed down version. Frank has played a similar one live a couple of time, although I think this Songbook version is even slower. I do think it is an incredibly beautiful version of this song. It’s lovely in it’s stripped down version, with spare instrumentation and Frank’s word so much clearer here. It’s just that I very much do love to sing and dance along to the fast paced original one. 

Polaroid Picture  ★★☆☆☆ 
Another reworked slowed down version of a fast-paced song. This one got kind of a jazz-y vibe to it and I’m usually not a fan of that. I don’t mind it all that much here, but to me it also robs this version of the “urgency” which I usually take away from the original one. The “let’s make the most of today, because all can change so quickly” feeling which is so very apparent in the lyrics as well, when he sings “Hold close to the ones that you love, Because we won’t all be here this time next year”. This version here leaves me with a too easy-going, relaxed feeling, if that makes any sense.

Love 40 Down ★★★★☆
In possible contradiction to all what I wrote in the previous paragraph, I kind of love that this stripped down acoustic version takes away a bit of the urgency of the original version. It’s another song in which the rework makes the lyrics stand out clearer and that does help the song, I think.

I Am Disappeared ★★★★★
A few days ago I wrote that my favourite version of this song was “the live one, when Frank starts it solo and acoustic and the band only joins for the last bit….” Tonight on Twitter Amanda reminded me that they had played it like this reworked version a lot during the last few shows and I think she might be right and I’ve always enjoyed the song when I heard it live recently. Anyway, I love this version. The slow start and and the spare instrumentation. The keyboards parts in the beginning are so beautiful, but they are just as amazing in the end in the hectic, urgent “We are electric pulses…” bit. All in all: great stuff!

Broken Piano ★★☆☆☆
What can I say… I’m still not a fan of this song. I prefer Frank singing more than talking in a song and it feels here he does more of the latter. I’ve got a similar problem with Demons, by the way. Anyway, this version at least lacks the bombastic instrumentation of the album version, so it’s not that bad.

Long Live The Queen ★★★★★
It’s so nice to finally have the fast punkrock live version as a good recorded one, where once again the lyrics are a bit clearer than on any (bootleg) live recording. This recording captures the mood and energy of a gig very well, I think. I at least can “see” Frank jump down from the base drum and stumble towards his mike stand here. And ever since I heard Frank talk about why they do the rock version live, I liked it even more and I’m so glad they’ve finally recorded it this way too.

The Ballad Of Me and My Friends ★★★★★
I usually like the original version he does at most gigs, because it has got this very communal vibe to it. At my first ever Frank gig in September 2013 though, he played this version with Matt on the keys. On that night he dedicated it to Josh Burdette, who had taken his own life just a few days earlier. Even though I had never heard of Josh before, this dedication and the change in pace and instrumentation – keys instead of acoustic guitar – gave this song a very different feeling. A sad and beautifully melancholic one and it’s very well captured in this recording I think. 

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