It’s been two short years since 2013’s dark and pessimistic Tape Deck Heart, and Frank Turner is back with sixth album Positive Songs for Negative People. The singer/songwriter hasn’t really stopped since he started releasing music in 2003, but he seems to thrive on his chaotic schedule with a string of solid-to-great albums preceding this one.
If you’re looking for a collection of more sombre sounds like in Tape Deck Heart, you are going to be disappointed. The ageing punk has gone for an upbeat, celebratory tone with this album, essentially doing what the album says on the front: playing positive songs for negative people. Rather than the contemplative and, at times, downright negative tones from the previous LP, Turner is rallying, summarised best by stand out track Glorious You. Turner’s voice soars here as he calls for the audience to ‘all pull together’. Recently released single The Next Storm works similarly, with a jaunty tune and a characteristically massive chorus as Turner speaks of wanting to ‘face the sunshine’. Get Better is a song dripping with punk influence, again providing another upbeat song to rally behind with a catchy and triumphant chorus.
Similarly to all of Turner’s work, the album has a quintessentially British sound. The folksy-punk sound, the roughly sung vocals, the meticulously written and at times almost-too-wordy lyrics all call back to England Keep my Bones. This is one of the reasons why this album works so well. This British sound is too often used with a darker, negative subject; it’s very strange to hear such positive lyrics and songs sung in this way. Yes, it does lack the lyrical depth of previous releases, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s refreshing to hear a bit of innocent optimism occasionally.
The album doesn’t really flaunt a huge amount of musical development. With a musician as polished as Frank Turner, this wouldn’t normally be an issue, but with such drastically different albums (in terms of thematic and lyrical content), one would expect some sort of experimentation. The big choruses and lyrical style have become part of the package with Turner’s music, but on this record there’s little to no notion that he took any chances with the songs, going with the ‘safe’ option in the writing process. He even somewhat admits this on Get Better, proclaiming he’s ‘got no new tricks, yeah, I’m up on the bricks’. On a track about self-improvement, it’s certainly an odd sentiment, but gives the impression he’s aware he has to change but is enjoying himself in the moment whilst he can.
Whilst the main message of the album is positivity, the record does have its darker moments. Mittens is a song that would have worked well on Tape Deck Heart. The crowd vocals in the final chorus give the song a suitably ‘epic’ sound, whilst the lyrics straddle the right side of the fine line between well- and clumsily-written (‘we used to fit like mittens but never like gloves’). Acoustic album closer Song for Josh is also very dark, with Turner almost mourning his deceased friend. It’s an effective album closer, with the lyrics doing justice to the subject matter.
The upbeat nature of this album stops it from ever having that much depth (outside of Song for Josh). The nature of negative emotions are simply that they are much more intriguing and open for exploration than positive ones; there just aren’t as many ways to say you’re happy. However, if anyone was going to have a good go at it, Frank Turner is certainly the best choice. He’s once again fused well-written lyrics with a strong folk-punk fusion to create a very strong album.