Frank Turner
No Man's Land


3.4
great

Review

by Channing Freeman STAFF
August 17th, 2019 | 42 replies


Release Date: 08/16/2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: “Here hang your hopes, your dreams, your might-have-beens, your locks, your keys, your mysteries.” – John Constable

For a man whose level of controversy has often outweighed his popularity, Frank Turner is bold to release an album entirely about women, a move that seems to invite and even welcome criticism. Early takes in the British press were happy to oblige, accusing Frank of appropriation and, strangely, “mansplaining.” As has been said countless times, there is plenty of money to be made by writing outraged hot takes ignorant of context, so perhaps there isn’t much of a point in discussing them. It should be obvious that Frank Turner choosing to write an album exclusively about women is not inherently wrong. What matters, as with any male author intending to write about women or in a woman’s voice, is how they do it. Accompanied by female studio musicians and produced by Catherine Marks, No Man’s Land is largely respectful and avoids any appropriation. A weekly podcast, Tales from No Man’s Land, provides a deeper context about the women in the songs and why he wrote about them, and all of the guests thus far have been women except for one.

The true tests for the songs on No Man’s Land are whether they can stand on their own apart from the wider context provided by the podcast, and whether Frank can find a balance between storytelling and interesting songwriting. When he can break free from the constraints of providing the context for these women’s lives and get at the emotional core of their stories, Frank is at his best. “I Believed You, William Blake” frames Catherine Blake in the shadow of her husband. Historians know next to nothing about her except within the context of William Blake’s work, so the song instead reveals a deep, fearful yearning that, while fictitious, feels incredibly real. “A Perfect Wife,” written about serial killer Nannie Doss, eschews storytelling entirely in favor of a suspiciously cheery indie-pop tune that wouldn’t sound out of place on Be More Kind if not for its morbidly bleak humor. The updated version of Positive Songs for Negative People’s “Silent Key” is a welcome new recording of one of Frank’s best songs, full of lilting strings and a brooding synth in the bridge. However, it is anyone’s guess why Esme Patterson’s original guest spot is sung by Frank himself on an album ostensibly about women. Not only does it hurt the album’s overall concept, the song now pinballs between narrative voices in a way that is surely confusing for those hearing it for the first time.

Podcast listeners will know that, at the end of every episode, Frank plays the subject’s song, often in a location central to the story. Catherine Blake’s song is played next to her grave, his tribute to the “outcast dead” is played in the titular graveyard, and he serenades Jinny Bingham’s ghost in the house where she died. Removed from these auspicious locations, some of the songs suffer in the sterile light of the studio. “Sister Rosetta,” though catchy, all but plods through its four minutes, and Frank sounds bored and a little tired, even at the end when he triumphantly proclaims that Rosetta has finally made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Eye of the Day,” one of the quietest and softly-sung songs of his career, leans too heavily on biographical details and goes on too long, though the lyrics themselves are beautiful (“If anybody asks, I named myself after the sun”). And while Frank has always been prone to hokey rhymes, some of the more traditional folk tunes see him at his worst, singing lines like, “Dressed in black, she was a classic beauty but cursed with constitution sickly,” and, “On the day she died, they swore they saw the devil by her side/a mob broke down her door and from her chair her body pried.”

No Man’s Land is a tightrope, and even when the songs are weak, Frank is largely successful at keeping his lyrical balance. However, “Rescue Annie,” sees him tumbling over the side. As the story goes, “Annie” drowned in the 1800s, and after her death, a plaster cast was made of her face. Later, a toymaker used that plaster cast as the face of the first CPR dummy. She has been called “the most kissed face in the world,” so that detail can’t be credited to Frank. However, his framing of Annie as a sixteen-year-old virgin and “unlucky lover” (none of which is actually known about her) is questionable. When he goes on to describe the CPR dummies lying in the darkness of hospitals, waiting for their missing kiss, it becomes clear that he is talking about the life-saving act that she has inadvertently taught to millions of people since her death. But, taken as a whole, the jigsaw lyrics don’t quite fit properly. All that being said, the tune itself is quite good (though, with a mid-tempo pace and resonant piano chords, maybe a bit too grandiose for the subject matter), and it joins a few other late-period Frank songs, like “Mittens” and “Love Forty Down,” that have horrendous lyrics but are nonetheless fun to sing along with.

The album is far from perfect, but it is still temping to describe it as a welcome return to form for a songwriter who has lately ventured closer to fluffy indie-pop than the biting folk that made his name. The best of the songs on No Man’s Land mix dense historiography with accessible catchiness. “The Lioness” is a frenetic rock song with one of the year’s best soaring choruses. “Rosemary Jane” is a touching tribute to Frank’s mother and a suitably effective capstone to the project. “The Graveyard of the Outcast Dead” blends fact, fiction, and a “Fairytale of New York” vibe. However, No Man’s Land was written before Be More Kind, and it is difficult to say what that portends for Frank’s future albums. Be More Kind had its strengths (and I’m particularly fond of its poppiest tune, “Little Changes”), but as a whole it tended toward the tepid. But, eight albums into an unlikely career, I still carry a font of hope for one of music’s best live performers and one of my favorite songwriters.



Recent reviews by this author
Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking RockwellTaylor Swift Lover
Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties Routine MaintenanceLaura Stevenson The Big Freeze
La Dispute PanoramaAriana Grande Thank U, Next
user ratings (39)
3
good

Comments:Add a Comment 
Atari
Staff Reviewer
August 17th 2019


24893 Comments


Really great review as always, chan

Looking forward to hearing this as soon as I’m able to pull myself away from the new Off With Their Heads (which I think you would love btw)

Digging: Tiny Moving Parts - Breathe

SlothcoreSam
August 17th 2019


900 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Nice rounded review Chan.

I found this album really enjoyable, as did my two feminist friends who listened with me. Some of the British music industry press have gone way overboard on the whole "mansplaining" and appropriation criticism.

Damn, if a talented musician, thoughtful human male, wants to do a concept album about historical female figures, in his own unique way, than we should focus on the positive aspects of this. For example, bringing the characters in his songs into the realm of a whole new audience. I for one hadn't heard the story of all the women in this album, and am not taking each song as their lifestory, but instead a jumping point to find out more about them.

I'm sure the women in Frank's life would be proud of him for writing this album.

Digging: Western Settings - Another Year

Kurai
August 17th 2019


353 Comments


Frank Turner has no arms

Observer
Staff Reviewer
August 17th 2019


7035 Comments


Good journalism. I'll check "The Lioness", going from what you said. It's been a long time since I've listened to a Frank Turner tune.

Digging: Reuben - In Nothing We Trust

dmathias52
August 17th 2019


847 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Great review and sums up my thoughts really well. Outside of a song here or there, I’m really unfamiliar with his back catalog. The lyrics to this are beautiful though, and I think he did a smart thing in telling the stories of historical women but always posing them as their stories, not his characters (which is why Rescue Annie is fairly uncomfortable). I think it, for the most part, thoughtful and carefully done.

I’ll need to check the podcast for sure.

Digging: Courtney Swain - Between Blood and Ocean

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
August 17th 2019


902 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks, all.



DM, you will probably really enjoy his earlier albums. England Keep My Bones is his best if you ask me, but they all have their merits. I'd recommend starting with older stuff first, rather than going backwards.



Observer, "The Lioness" is sonically unique on the album, but it is pretty similar to a lot of his rockier material from older albums. The chorus is truly great.



And Slothcore, I agree with everything you said. The worst was that NME article written immediately after he announced the album/released "Sister Rosetta." The writer had only heard one song and was already shitting on the entire project. Just silly.



Atari, they are next on my list!



I didn't get to touch on this in the review, but it is funny that the outrage machine (in the UK in particular, where he's most popular) has latched on to this album, when in my opinion Frank has said some political stuff that is much more offensive than anything on here.

Gyromania
August 17th 2019


28319 Comments


great review, chan. last thing i heard by frank was england keep my bones. didn't really realize he had put out 4 albums since then. kinda curious to jump into this and see how different it sounds

beefshoes
August 17th 2019


7517 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

His last release was forgettable at best, so hopefully this one ends up being a pleasant surprise.

Digging: State Faults - Clairvoyant

trackbytrackreviews
August 18th 2019


3401 Comments


Is this guy ever gonna release something good again

luci
August 18th 2019


11669 Comments


hate the cover art

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
August 18th 2019


902 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

The picture on here is the podcast art that has more logos and stuff, but yeah it is truly ugly. The single covers are a lot better.

AsleepInTheBack
August 18th 2019


5999 Comments


Nice to see a review of this that doesn't double up as a hit piece

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
August 18th 2019


902 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I should also say that I like the album more than this review lets on. Personally it's probably a 4, but critically it's just as easy to criticize it than it is to praise it.

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
August 18th 2019


7999 Comments


Absolutely loved all of the singles except Eye of the Day, lyrics sound like an overbearing history teacher trying to interest his bored students

Excited to get to the rest of this ASAP

Digging: Blood Cultures - Oh Uncertainty! A Universe Despairs

Minushuman24
August 18th 2019


2359 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This was a pretty enjoyable record, a good recovery from the lifeless "Be Kind"



and a nice review

Digging: Jawbreaker - Dear You

SowingSeason
Moderator
August 19th 2019


32091 Comments

Album Rating: 3.4

Great review, I pretty much agree on everything and your writing inspires as always. The Lioness is such a great tune and singlehandedly bumps this up a notch for me. With that said, the album as a whole is still a front-to-end improvement over Be More Kind which was bordering on self-parody.

Digging: Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell

Observer
Staff Reviewer
August 19th 2019


7035 Comments


Yeah, i definitely liked lioness.

po0ty
August 19th 2019


616 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

album art looks like someone spent 30 minutes in photoshop and was like eh that'll do

Scheumke
August 19th 2019


1114 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

That was fun, but nothing really more than that. Nothing really special for me but nothing really boring or horrible either.

Digging: Moron Police - Boat on the Sea

Pajolero
August 19th 2019


1082 Comments


This guy is just uuuugghhh



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2019 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy