Review Summary: If you can picture Frank Turner singing "Build Me Up Buttercup" with a bitter and frustrated tone, you can almost imagine the brilliance of his new "rarities" compilation .
Much as I adore England Keep My Bones
, I think I might finally understand why some people prefer Love, Ire & Song
and even, dare I say, why a few actively dislike Frank Turner's 2011 release. I hadn't realised these things until I listened to The Second Three Years
, Turner's patchwork quilt of B-sides and covers from the second half of his career as a solo artist. England Keep My Bones
was tight, and there was a looseness to Frank's first two records which endeared it to people; where "Prufrock" sounded like it had been invented on the spot, tracks like "Peggy Sang The Blues" felt written down. This didn't bother me, but I reckon it irked factions of the folk-rock singer-songwriter's fanbase because they felt trapped outside the album's idea of a song rather than welcomed inside the bars as was the case on tracks like "Jet Lag".
I wrote a top-marks review for England
(which has since dropped by half a point), so don't get me wrong, but The Second Three Years
benefits most of the time from the absence of so much solidity in both its songwriting approach and its structure. The feel is one of sitting in on the best parts of Turner screwing around, playing songs he loves and songs he's three-quarters written that never took on the layers of "Glory Hallelujah" or "The Journey Of The Magi", and the result is just mindblowingly smirk-inducing, because there's something incalculable and jaw-dropping about the way Frank Turner sees story-telling and the effortless brilliance within cuts like "Song For Eva Mae". The manner in which he expresses to his goddaughter his own failings and his advice for, well, everything, without it seeming like a grand concept - this type of thing has always been the core of Turner's lyricism, and it's lovely to see it take centre-stage.
And so when you reach his cover of "Build Me Up Buttercup" you expect it to imitate the Foundations' carefree visage, but here's another thing you might have forgotten about Turner: he's so, so capable of stopping you dead in your tracks. At least 50% of the songs here that aren't his own don't feel like they were written by someone else; during the sublime "Last Christmas" it swirls and sways so much it's hard to even remember Wham!'s original; Springsteen's "Thunder Road" is an enthralling listen from top to bottom. But even as Frank Turner screams - yeah, screams - "I'll give it to someone special!", it's clear that he's already doing that, because you can hear him grinning behind the verses, and those grins don't say, "Hey, look, a novelty cover!" They say that this is a song he's found a soul in and they bring that out in all its glory.
So The Second Three Years
is a reminder of everything that makes Frank Turner the unbelievably lovable songwriter he is. His attempts to connect with his listeners aren't attempts at all - they're just the way his mind works. What counts is the difference on "Build Me Up Buttercup" between the "ooh"s of the original and the "ohh" (singular) of Turner's interpretation; these are vocalisations that nobody can really explain the beauty within, and it becomes apparent through this set of less-than-polished songs that the way Frank Turner's head works is the way, in short, a lot of people want their favourite bands' to. So yeah, it's not perfect; a couple of tracks here and there aren't as stunning as what surrounds them. The whole deal on The Second Three Years
is that Turner's cobbled together a collection of songs from his last 36 months and he has faith that their - and perhaps his - inherent beauty will carry them. It finds the heart of everything from "The Reak Damage" through to "Glory Hallulejah" and is content to let that heart meander at its own pace, and a result it rivals his more deliberate studio releases, breathtaking as they are.