Review Summary: Million Dead frontman goes solo with an acoustic rock project. Verdict: just enough entertainment to perform.
Once upon a time, Frank Turner was the lead singer for a rather wonderful British punk band called Million Dead. And lo, he was a star in his field - his endearingly spastic vocals and free-association lyrics about Stevie Wonder's eyes, Walt Disney's socialism, and Alan Turing ensuring that his band could, on their day, make even the hardened At The Drive-In fan wonder what all the fuss was about. Million Dead were, in all honesty, the match and even the better of El Paso's finest for at least one album, the debut sleeper hit A Song To Ruin
Now, the members have followed their noses into post-Million Dead projects. Luckily, we've been spared the prog-rock-gone-punk musing of another Mars Volta. Instead, we've ended up with the Sonic Youth-esque The Quiet Kill, and Frank Turner's solo album. A ....folk record?!
The idea excited me, if I'm being honest. An acoustic bed for Turner's frantic, vaguely insane lyrics, all still performed with a punk energy, sounded like a recipe for a great album to me.
The execution, on the other hand, is a little different. Rather than folk per se, the album is instead more a straight-forward acoustic rock record; more Days of The New than, say, Comus (though it sounds little like either - imagine an acoustic Billy Bragg for a better direct comparison). The new idiom has caused Turner to scale back his lyrical ambition. No more socio-politics and angry rants against Willy Wonka, I'm afraid. The lyrics here - and to be honest, they're inarguably the defining feature of this album - are straight-talking and basic, without sacrificing wit. As a comparison, here's the opening 'lines' from A Song To Ruin
's first track, "Pornography For Cowards":
Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats, put on your thinking caps. Now here's a poser for you: you know sexism, the social scourge of the sixties seen as singularly responsible for a plethora of ills? Well the reaction, after starting well, has moved from the sublime to the ridiculous through self-defensive actions of the string-vested interests. So please let's dispense with tired fixations with forms of address, and with constant vilification of legitimate sexual attraction, with weak accusations of inverted discrimination, because it's getting old. Come on girls, this is weak. Come on boys, gird up your loins. And yes, I'm no qualified social theorist, but I've got me a few ideas I picked up while I was trying to be a human being. I'm amazed - no seriously, folks, I'm really fucking awestruck.
...and here's the opening from "Real Damage", the first song here...
I woke up on a sofa in an unfamiliar house, surrounded by sleeping folks I didn't know.
On failing to find my friends, I decided it was clearly time to go.
So I made my way out of the door as quietly as I could - there was no one there I knew to say goodbye,
Squinting in the sadly sobering sunshine of the Sunday morning light.
I started the night with all my friends and I ended up alone.
I started out so happy now I'm hungover and down.
It was about then that I realized I was half-way through the best years of my life....
Somewhat different, I'm sure you'll agree. So while Turner's lyrics are still good, they seem to have lost their character a little. Perhaps it's the new musical slant, which has pushed his lyrics to the forefront, which has made them seem a little less interesting. Or maybe he's undergone some self-editing because he feels they'll be much more scrutinized now. Hell, maybe one of the other members of Million Dead was constantly goading him to write weird shi
t, and he doesn't have that influence now. Who knows.
While that's exactly what you'll notice first here, that's not the problem with this album. The problem - and it pains me to say this - is that it's not exactly hard to find something of the same quality of most of these songs with a random browse through MySpace. That's perhaps not as bad a slur as it seems. I contend that there's a lot of good stuff on MySpace if you're prepared to look for it and you're tolerant enough of the crap you'll stumble upon on the way not to stop. Even so, MySpace has made music as a whole a much more saturated, competitive marketplace, and all but one of these songs would probably have been lost to time were it not for Turner's history.
I say all but one deliberately, because one song here is a genuine stunner. "Once We Were Anarchists" is a brilliant song, no matter what way you cut it. A genuine, honest, funny picture of a punk growing up, the lyrics ring so true to me personally it's untrue, and I know I'm not the only one who'll feel that way. The chorus is as anthemic as they come in the genre -
Because I'm young enough to be all pissed off
But I'm old enough to be jaded
I'm at the age where I want things to change
But with age my hopes have faded
I'm young and bored of being young and bored
If I was old I could say I'd seen it all before
I'm tired of giving a shit.
Further lyrics about apathy, Turner's own political career being fuc
ked, and England still being shi
t ensure that this may yet prove to be one of the very finest songs of 2007. And in truth, there's probably going to be a few people that hear it and end up over-rating this album slightly. Certainly, if it's released as a single, it'll almost definitely be a hit amongst the MTV2 crowd on this side of the Atlantic.
Sleep Is For The Week
may have one jewel in its crown, but the rest forms an album that is solidly above average, if slightly workmanlike. It's certainly enjoyable, which is more than can be said for a lot of the albums you could immediately compare it to. I'm confident that anyone who does stumble upon this record will find a lot to like about it, but whether or not they'll bother with a second listen is another matter.