Frank Turner has led one of British music’s more peculiar careers. In the two decades since his initial hardcore group Million Dead lurched out of the rehearsal room, he’s built a dogged fanbase through relentless hard work, endlessly writing and recording, and then touring, touring, touring. Yet he remains difficult to love – certainly from a press perspective, anyway. A figure who exists outside trends, his politics – broadly left-leaning, at times libertarian, often contrarian – were the subject of a viral Guardian piece, one that prompted a rebuke from Frank Turner himself. Furthermore, while 2019 studio album ‘No Man’s Land’ may have been an attempt to platform female genius, it was itself accused of mansplaining, of talking down and side-lining non-male voices.
It’s tempting to view ‘FTHC’ as a reaction to some of this criticism. There’s no over-arching theme here, no grand plan – instead, fans are treated to punchy songwriting that touches on Frank Turner’s key influences, moving from hardcore to alt-folk via the odd Americana spell, too. It’s refreshing, honest, and at times revelatory; while Clash isn’t a rock outlet, we’re ready to label this his definitive solo outing, a ‘Frank Turner’ album that offers the songwriter in 360.
Opener ‘Non Serviam’ is as uncompromising as they come. A blast of UK hardcore from the man who once – again, not without controversy – named a band Mongol Horde, it’s a bracing introduction, one that demands you meet it on its own terms. What follows isn’t a retreat, however, but more of a re-entrenchment, a record that tackles aging, loss, and reconciliation.
It’s not without surprises. Having turned 40 and left London, the newly married – partner Jessica Guise is herself an artist and musician – songwriter is ready to pick at old wounds. The remarkable ‘Miranda’ sits in a very slim arena of songs about a trans parent, with Frank Turner using a country twang to dissect the stern, rage-fuelled father he grew up with, and the trans woman he is coming to know, respect, and love.
‘A Wave Across A Bay’ is addressed to his old friend Scott Hutchison, and it’s the sort of tender, heart-on-sleeve songwriting Frank Turner has long excelled at. Here, though, it’s affecting and raw, using no more words than are necessary.
Indeed, ‘FTHC’ contains no small degree of high points – ‘Perfect Score’ is an antsy piece of power pop that addresses his own flaws, while the choppy, autobiographical lyricism of ‘Farewell To My City’ is a love letter to London, and the transformative powers of flea-bitten venues that, increasingly, are being closed down.
Old flaws still remain, however. Frank Turner paints in broad brushstrokes, and his earnest nature – which is undoubtedly what connects with so many fans – remains, for this writer, his Achille’s Heel. Yet on this very personal project, there are moments that, in spite of my own cynicism towards the subject, undeniably make a connection. Take the countrified twang that resonates through ‘The House Where I Was Raised’, and the kind of pensive emotional closure that the song offers, with Frank Turner left to grapple, alone, with adulthood. With the lights going out one by one, we’re left to reflect that perhaps Frank Turner has made a connection, after all.
Words: Robin Murray
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