Without much more rambling about why this album review of Frank Turner’s first album is the last one I write or why it took me so long to write, here is my very subjective review of Frank’s debut solo album.
I should be honest upfront and state that it’s my least favourite of his albums and if someone had wanted to introduce me to Frank’s music by playing his albums to me in chronological order, I’m not sure I would have gotten hooked on this artist with this album. There are some great songs on it, but also quite a few songs I can’t really relate to or connect with and which furthermore are written / sung in a way, that I don’t really care much for, so I’m a bit torn about this album all in all.
A few days ago I listened to a podcast (TapeNotes) in which Frank talks about the complex recordings of “Be More Kind” and how many different instruments and electronic elements and studio engineering magic and stuff they used for that one. So it’s been an interesting experience to listen back to this debut album from 2007, which basically is just acoustic guitar, bass, some drums / percussion and some violin.
Anyway, here I go:
01. The Real Damage ★★★☆☆
Is it really worth it? Is any of this worth it?
Well the whole thing’s far from perfect,
But I’ve yet to figure out a better way to spend my time.
This one’s quite a classic at live shows, probably because Frank turns it into an entertaining sing-a-long song. The ‘punchline’ at the end is usually causing a lot of laughter as intended and in this way it’s working perfectly. On a personal level I just can’t relate to anything in this song. I never got so wasted on the weekends. I never got so wasted. Period! I might have spend my days with other mind numbing or time-wasting activities, but not with booze and drugs and partying. I can’t even imagine myself ever doing this or would ever have done that. So this song definitely falls into the “I can’t believe I’m fangirling so hard over a guy who lived such a different life from mine” category.
02. Vital Sign ★☆☆☆☆
I’ll be dead but never dying, and I say that with a smile.
It’s just my way of trying to be alive.
I really have a difficult time with the sound / melody here to be honest; the drawn-out, monotonous singing in so many parts in this song. Furthermore: it’s a frighteningly depressing state of mind he’s singing from, isn’t it? I’m so glad he’s overcome that. But songs like this one put some stuff in “Losing Days” a few years later in perspective. To me anyway…
03. Romantic Fatigue ★★★★☆
And I never know which song I should play her.
Each melody is a memory of a not-forgotten failure.
So when I get out my guitar tonight to do what I do,
Remember, I probably didn’t write this song for you.
I really like this one and even though it’s not a happy song, at least musical wise it’s some reprieve from the previous songs. Yet another song to which I can’t relate to on a personal level, but rhyme and rhythm wise it has got a nice flow and I enjoy that as well as the little gems like the “wrote a few songs – wrought a few tears.”
04. A Decent Cup of Tea ★★★☆☆
She summers by my seas,
But she winters without me.
I overlooked this song for a long time, which I now feel a bit bad about. Because it’s such a beautiful, sad song about an unrequited love, something we all probably can relate to in one way or the other. Listening to this now makes me kind of regret skipping the “Sleep Is For The Week” night of Lost Evenings last year.
05. Father’s Day ★★★★☆
What’s the point in making vows that you’re never going to keep?
A lifetime lying awake means you’ll never get to sleep.
Yet another song I can’t relate to on a personal level, but that doesn’t really matter much here, because Frank’s emotions are so palpable through these lyrics, that it’s still a rather emotional song for me. It’s also one of the songs that every once in a while, I wonder how detached Frank is from all of this, when he’s playing it live. This goes for every song any artist writes about personal experiences, I guess. Tim Omundson says it quite well in the documentary: “You can’t feel every song each time you sing it”
It took me a few years to recognize how incredibly neat Frank used the ambiguity of the small and simple word “lie” in these lyrics. I’m actually still impressed each time I hear the song now.
06. Worse Things Happen At Sea ★★★★☆
Well honestly, your honesty, it has emerged unscathed,
And I hope you’re doing fine, because me, I’m doing fucking great.
I really love the rhyme, rhythm and melody of this song. I love how it builds up over the various verses and and even though I’ve never been quite in a situation like he’s singing about, I still always enjoy to sing and in the end scream along to it. I’ve never heard the song live (yet), which I might have to remedy at some point with a song request. Mmh…?
07. My Kingdom for a Horse ★★★☆☆
Don’t you ever kind of wish that the world would just stop?
That the band would pack up and the curtain would drop?
I haven’t really listened to this one with paying attention to the lyrics for quite some time and obviously have clearly forgotten how openly Frank sings about his drug use here. Another one of the “frighteningly depressing” and “light years away from my own life” songs I’ve mentioned above. Not a bad song; far from it. It just makes me a bit uncomfortable listening to it, to be honest.
08. Back In the Day ★★★☆☆
When I was just 16 I pinned my colours to the mast:
Punk rock’s in the ink that’s in my skin,
The attitude in every song I sing.
That’s a fun little song to sing along to, even if I’ve never been that kind of punk. I’ve never been any kind of punk. But I love how the atmosphere and mood of these formative years in Frank’s life come through in this song.
09. Once We Were Anarchists ★★★★☆
But it’s hard to keep on fighting the good fight
When no one else seems bothered,
When no one’s on your side.
One of my favourite songs and I’m glad I had a chance to hear it live at least once in the past few years. What I take away from this song might not quite be what Frank had intended when he wrote it, but that’s just the way it is. In the summer I first found Frank’s music (2013) we had general elections here in Germany and I was out again campaigning for the Green Party. Campaigning for a small party in a small city can be frustrating, because a lot of people just don’t care about politics anymore. So sometimes belting along to “Because the truth is I don’t like people all that much” helped to ease my frustration about either the indifference or rudeness you encounter when you’re campaign for a political party. But in the end I always came round to
“I’m tired of fighting a fight that’s not my fight,
But so is everybody else – we’re all on the same side.”
It’s so easy to be jaded by politics and to complain about politics. But it’s so much harder and time and energy consuming to be part of a movement working on changing some things. Especially on the small local level.
Oh, and I’ll be forever grateful that I’ve learned about the word “jaded” with this song. Because I think it’s just a beautiful gem of word. #NerdAlert :-)
10. Wisdom Teeth ★★★★☆
And though I always tried to live an honest life,
To tell the truth I’ve told my share of lies.
The more I think about it, the more I realize this one might be my favourite of the old, rare (overlooked, yes even by me) songs in Frank’s repertoire. I can’t quite relate to his regret about messing up relationships the way he obviously did. Bt I can very well relate to the raw emotion of messing things up in general. Of choosing the wrong path. I admit it took me a while to really appreciate this song, because it’s quite soft and simple melody and arrangement wise. But by now exactly that simplicity makes it so very beautiful to me.
11. The Ladies of London Town ★★☆☆☆
And you smile a smile to take away my breath,
Because tonight, and only tonight, you know you’re the best.
One of the few more fast paced songs on this album and I like it alright, but it’s once again about a life so different from the one I’ve ever lived. Or want to live.
12. Must Try Harder ★☆☆☆☆
If I could just relax, then I could admit
That I don’t know what I want, but this is not it.
Like “Vital Sign” this comes from frighteningly depressing state of mind, which makes me a bit uncomfortable to listen to it. It’s a bit weird, that “Imperfect Tense”, written a few years later, doesn’t make me feel like that, though it’s not so much different topic and emotion wise. But I think the slow, drawn-out, monotonous singing is what’s really turning me off that song, because it’s just not my thing.
13. The Ballad of Me and My Friends ★★★☆☆
But if you’re all about the destination, then take a fucking flight.
We’re going nowhere slowly, but we’re seeing all the sights.
This song’s a classic at live gigs and I enjoy the singing along and the communal vibe. But ever since I’ve heard the slow piano version at my first ever gig in September 2013 and especially now that the piano version is also on the Songbook compilation, the original falls a bit short for me.
“Going nowhere slowly” is still my ‘location’ on Twitter, because I have a weird, obscure love for that phrase.
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So, that’s my subjective take on Frank’s debut album. 11 years after he’s released it and five years after I’ve first listened to it. When I started listening back to the songs with a more attentive ear and mind I realized I actually liked it more than I thought I had. Still my least favourite album, but that’s probably down to the fact that Frank’s songwriting – music and lyric wise – evolved over the years. And I’m glad that it did and still does. It would be boring to listen to the same stuff over and over again. As I’ve stated above I’ve recently listened to a podcast in which Frank and his producer talk about what went into making “Be More Kind” and it was fascinating to hear how radically different from previous records that process was. And I absolutely love the end result! It’s one of his best albums and I’m happy and excited for whatever he’ll come up with the future. I don’t have to listen to or like all of his various side projects as long as I can be assured he’ll always come back to doing melodious meaningful folk / punk / electro / whatever pop under the “brand”: Frank Turner.
Here are more of my thoughts on Frank Turner songs