Review Summary: Turner's best record is a top-to-bottom incredible exploration of legacy, memory, history and - far more importantly - the paths we choose.
In spite of his proclamation on second track 'Peggy Sang The Blues' that it doesn't matter where you come from
- a sentiment that the man surely believes with just as much conviction as everything else he's ever written - you do have to wonder. For England Keep My Bones
, his fourth studio album, is a collection of heartfelt ruminations on what it means to carry the weight of the past with you. Sometimes that history takes a physical form in the hills and churches of his homeland; many a time, it's more abstract, like the tormented regret he documents on 'Redemption'. But whichever incarnation it arrives in, one thing is sure from the off; Turner is not concerned with the superficial past which sees people refer to him as an Eton pupil. This goes deeper.
If you aren't already familiar with the punk-frontman turned singer-songwriter's approach to the connection between an acoustic guitar and its audience, opener 'Eulogy' should tell you everything you need to know. In it, Turner declares that on the day he dies he'll say "at least I fucking tried!" in his typically resolute fashion, as the momentous guitars crash behind him, and from there on out, England Keep My Bones
is one story of legacy and memory after another. 'One Foot Before The Other' explores the instinctive feeling of being inexplicably linked to every person you ever meet, and 'Wessex Boy' is a folksy three-and-a-half minutes of rejoicing that home still exists however far away you go. But the thing that makes this record so special is not
how it's set up; it's how it plays out.
Songs like 'Redemption' are so rare in their obviously autobiographical honesty that it's easy to assume they remain unresolved, but such is not - is never - the case on England Keep My Bones
. What is essentially one man ruing his decision to leave his girlfriend alone in a restaurant in London winter
transforms because of who Turner is; the song is not a description of the events of that snowy evening, but rather a personal exploration of how you fix those traumatic memories. It's visceral and potentially tragic, but ultimately, it's actually phenomenally healing
; god help you if Turner's assertion that each can be redeemed by the courage with which he confesses
doesn't fix you up good and proper, especially after his outpouring.
It's this personal attachment, this obvious link to Turner's inner thoughts that set this record and Love, Ire & Song
apart from his other two albums; it is abundantly clear from the very start to the very finish of England Keep My Bones
that he means every word of what he's saying, and not in a theatrical sense. 'I Am Disappeared' is quite simply the best song he's ever written, and it's nothing to do - really - with the piano flourishes of its chorus. It's all about the way Turner sounds when he says that he sleeps with his passport, one eye on the back door, so [he] can always run
. He doesn't have to shout it; it stabs so damn deep.
And this personal edge rounds itself off perfectly with closing track 'Glory Hallelujah'. On 'Try This At Home', Frank Turner joked that 'we write love songs in C, we do politics in G, and we sing songs about our friends in E minor'. I don't care what key 'Glory Hallelujah' is in, but it's all those three combined; it's absolutely the culmination of this record and of Turner's songwriting to this day right here. It's not a song about God, or god, or atheism; it's a track which believes in its own cries that we're all in this together
. That's the crux of it. But most telling is his pondering during the song's bridge that [he's] known beauty in the stillness of cathedrals in the day, [...] sung 'Glory Hallelujah, won't you wash my sins away!
but that now he's singing his own song
. This is the message, in essence, of England Keep My Bones
- the past happened, and matters, but nowhere nearly as much as what you do with it now. Basically then, it doesn't matter where you come from - it matters where you go
. And Frank Turner is going anywhere he wants to.