The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

Frank Turner
The Second Three Years Josh Hall , January 17th, 2012 05:47

Add your comment »

In a little under three months, Frank Turner will play to twelve and a half thousand people at Wembley Arena. Billy Bragg will be supporting him. It'll appear neatly symbolic; the old guard of political songwriting handing over to….to what? To a new wave of socially-informed acoustic music? To a fresh-faced young man taking politics to arenas?

In many ways, Bragg will be passing the baton to someone exactly like him: a Home Counties liberal who holds dear an idyllicised vision of a past England. But while (for all his innumerable faults) Bragg once had what he considered to be genuine working class interests at heart, Turner seems possessed of an oddly violent reactionary streak. Bragg is honest about his liberalism. Turner, meanwhile, happily misappropriates Bakunin but baulks when faced with poverty riots at home. He represents an increasingly prevalent anthropological phenomenon: the liberal masquerading as a radical.

The Second Three Years is a collection of b-sides, 'rarities', and covers, the original tracks from which are mainly taken from the 2010 Rock & Roll EP and 2011's England Keep My Bones. The covers portion is entirely without merit, Turner having managed to extract every last atom of enjoyment from every single one of the songs he's chosen. Take That's 'The Greatest Day' becomes a three minute yelp, while a live rendition of 'Last Christmas' is less good than almost any version you're likely to hear in any Lucky Voice in any city centre on any given day of the year. Worst, though, is 'Thunder Road', the original of which has been clubbed to death with meticulously affected glottal stops, only to have its reanimated corpse paraded around some bedevilled home studio. So pallid it would bleed white.

Superfluous covers aside, though, the real meat of the problem lies in the first half of the record. Opener 'Sailor's Boots' sets the bar quite neatly, beginning with Turner's a capella longings for a simple life at sea. "If I had been born / Two hundred years ago / Well I would have been a sailor/ A-sailing I would go," he sings, before mourning the fact that he's a 21st Century pop star rather than a 19th Century Merchant Navy skivvy. It is the sort of trite poeticism that characterises the record, delivered with a shrug that says, "Oh this old thing? Yeah it's nothing, I was just playing around on my travel guitar and OH GOD PLEASE TELL ME HOW INSPIRING I AM."

The album is shot through with this self-conscious romanticising of the quotidian. If he isn't singing about sailing he's giving us tales of good ol' Vaudeville in 'Balthazar, Impresario' ("We aren't just artists / We are something more / We're entertainers." Yes, really.), or the quiet desperation of suburban drudgery in 'Mr Richards'. There is a constant sense of mourning for some lost Albion, Dickensian in its straightforwardness. Everything is either completely right or totally wrong. Teenage romance and punk rock is great; forgotten artisans are demi-gods; office work is shit. "What is this life really all about?" he has Mr. Richards muse before clearing his desk and setting off for a life on the road, as if in a Ladybird Kerouac. Turner thinks he is providing concise encapsulations of humanity, details from the great fresco of life. In reality his characters are thoroughly two-dimensional, entirely without complexity, and therefore utterly unbelievable.

But the lazy characters aren't the most worrying thing here. Rather, that accolade goes to a handful of snippy little throwaway lines – glimpses of what are clearly quite deeply held prejudices. In 'Balthazar', Turner's impresario laments that the stage is suffering because "the young these days are glued to TV screens." It's an odd observation from an artist who goes to great lengths to lampoon tabloid reactionaries, but one that chimes quite nicely with some of his previous utterances on the yoof. In Campfire Punkrock's 'Thatcher Fucked The Kids', for example, he refers to "the kids in our neighbourhood" as "a violent bunch of bastard little shits." Ken Clarke, of course, managed it in rather fewer syllables when he described London's poor as a "feral underclass."

And that is the real problem with The Second Three Years. It's not the songs (really, what were you expecting?), but rather Turner himself. He has tried very hard to cast himself as the lone wolf leftist, battling against stale ideologies. But in reality, his worldview seems as reductive as the very worst of the right. In a recent interview with a Phoenix newspaper he described rioters in Tottenham as "a bunch of fucking evil, violent people." On his own forum he said he is "bored with people talking about deprivation" as a cause of unrest. He claims progressive credentials, but seems content with immersing himself in gawkish approximations of an England that never existed. It's the classic reactionary mindset, one step removed from primitivism: it would all be fine if we could get back to the time when Britain was great – you know, when we were all sailors and the music hall was popular. Then we'd be alright.

There is nothing progressive here, either musically or politically. Just awkward couplets, poorly written stories, and the small-mindedness of the Home Counties liberal.

Dan B
Jan 17, 2012 11:33am

I heard The Quietus was insulting Frank Turner and I got here as fast as I could.

Reply to this Admin

Dan B
Jan 17, 2012 11:45am

In reply to Dan B:

(again, I mean)

Reply to this Admin

makv
Jan 17, 2012 11:47am

In reply to Dan B:

Dan B - hah hah. Ditto.

Reply to this Admin

jjshareefnose
Jan 17, 2012 11:56am

Great article

Reply to this Admin


Jan 17, 2012 11:57am

I'm a man who bought Frank Turner's first EP, Campfire Punkrock, in the hope that it would continue some of Million Dead's charm. Needless to say, once I'd put down both my pints I realised my mistake, but nonetheless I feel like it's worth pointing out that it's this aforementioned EP which contains 'Thatcher Fucked the Kids', not Love, Ire & Song. Love, Ire & Song contains 12 different reactionary pub chants.

Reply to this Admin

John Calvert
Jan 17, 2012 12:18pm

Just brilliant writing.

Reply to this Admin

Josh Hall
Jan 17, 2012 12:21pm

In reply to :

You're absolutely right. Corrected. Thanks!

Reply to this Admin

Stavros P. Leibowitz
Jan 17, 2012 3:03pm

This review really has made my day.

Reply to this Admin

Jonathan Lee
Jan 18, 2012 12:39pm

Sounds to me like a certain reviewer has failed in whatever he has tried and now wants to lambast the more talented boys in the class. Turner has once again put together fine albums of fine, poetic, well structured songs.

A disappointing, one sided, petulant, 'life's not fair' review. You should be ashamed of your, ahem, journalism.

Reply to this Admin

Charlie
Jan 18, 2012 1:42pm

Yeah, see, this! Frank Turner is the shittest, posiest musician working in the UK today. At least Ed Sheeran is just rubbish and effete; he doesn't go round pretending to be some sort of man-of-the-people while peddling ill-thought-out rhetoric peppered with comedy songs about how his best fwend shagged some class totty on their gap yar.

Reply to this Admin

Jonathan Lee
Jan 18, 2012 2:05pm

In reply to Charlie:

Er, who mentioned Ed Sheeran in all of this? Are you saying that a three hit wonder is somehow comparable to Mr Turner?

I suspect you may need to delve a little deeper into Frank Turner's music - preferably with a dictionary and encyclopedia (to help you understand the references). Let me know if there are any long words you don't understand.

Reply to this Admin

jim5et
Jan 18, 2012 3:54pm

He's supposed to be left wing? I filed him (on the basis of the album) as Mitch Benn doing UKIP Billy Bragg, and I stand by that.

Reply to this Admin

Noel
Jan 18, 2012 4:42pm

In reply to Jonathan Lee:

the great thing about this guy's posts is it's really easy to imagine them being delivered by a sarcastic Eton schoolmaster

Reply to this Admin

Charlie
Jan 18, 2012 6:05pm

In reply to Jonathan Lee:

Yes I'm comparing them because while Ed is rightly derided as a bit of a twerp, he's at least a harmless twerp and not one whose music happens to touch the hearts, souls and sensibilities of part-time politicos, 6th form radicals and wannabe intellectuals with overinflated senses of superiority.

Reply to this Admin

Jonathan Lee
Jan 19, 2012 9:38am

In reply to Charlie:

I have spent some time on your behalf to provide you a little more education. From the 112 available tracks, only 16 are even marginally politically driven. The rest are songs of love, relationships, family and the love of the country from which you were are born. Oh, and of course, the overriding message of positivity that anyone can achieve anything. If you can criticise that message then you really are bottom of the class, son.

As already suggested, perhaps you need to listen a little more and get to know the subject matter so as to develop a more informed opinion, rather than relying on a few ill-informed articles.

Now run along or you'll miss your next class.

Reply to this Admin

Stavros P. Leibowitz
Jan 19, 2012 9:41am

In reply to Jonathan Lee:

Ah yes... here we go again: the moment an unfavourable review is made then the cry of 'bad journalism' is raised once again. You tell the reviewer to delve deeper into Turner's music yet how could such a thing be possible given the analysis that's already been made? And besides, Turner's music is so shallow that any further depth of research is simply impossible.

Reply to this Admin

Stavros P. Leibowitz
Jan 19, 2012 9:44am

In reply to Jonathan Lee:

"Oh, and of course, the overriding message of positivity that anyone can achieve anything." Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Reply to this Admin

Dan B
Jan 19, 2012 11:11am

I honestly can't believe anyone has gotten as far as listening to him for the lyrics. When I hear that sub-Hammell On Trial thrashed acoustic and braying yelp, I have to yell my safe word to get Miss Pain to turn it off. In 112 available songs, if the message is 'you can achieve anything', then why hasn't he achieved a halfway decent song?

Reply to this Admin

Jinty
Jan 19, 2012 11:14am

The twat has even stolen Black Flag's logo for a t-shirt design. Is nothing sacred?

Reply to this Admin

Jonathan Lee
Jan 19, 2012 11:39am

In reply to Dan B:

You really should try a little harder to believe it. It seems that a vast number of people worldwide have managed to do so.

Perhaps it's a little complicated for you?

Reply to this Admin

Jonathan Lee
Jan 19, 2012 11:47am

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

The ahem, 'analysis' given started from an utterly biased and negative standpoint and then the reviewer simply tittilated himself by dragging as much negativity out of the 'review' as possible. Let me give you a quick lesson. A review should begin from a level playing field, drawing a valid conclusion following critique of the subject matter. This doesn't and thus fails in its journalistic goal.
As for your laughter over positivity, I'm sorry that you don't feel there is a place for it in your life. But that's fine, as Huxley intimated, we do need a certain group of persons who want to remain without achievement to balance the equilibrium.
I think I can hear the bell ringing, back to class petal....

Reply to this Admin

Jonathan Lee
Jan 19, 2012 11:53am

In reply to Jinty:

Yawn. It is. Yawn. A homage. Yawn. To them. Yawn. As they. Yawn. Are one of his favourite. Yawn. Bands.

Jesus, does anyone research anything they spout off about?

Reply to this Admin

Ben Bland
Jan 19, 2012 1:46pm

Two things:

1. Great review.
2. I love Frank Turner and think he is one of the greatest lyricists the country has ever produced.

Just to show that those two opinions are not mutually exclusive.

Reply to this Admin

Dan B
Jan 19, 2012 3:01pm

In reply to Jonathan Lee:

Good trolling mate. The idea that a review should start from a level playing field is trite; everyone is full of biases and kneejerks and prejudices. Better people just lay it out there so you better judge how seriously to take the writer. For instance; you like Frank Turner, so I know to ignore you as the percentages say you're an earnest sixth-form berk, well-meaning as you may be.

Reply to this Admin

Jonathan Lee
Jan 19, 2012 3:25pm

In reply to Dan B:

All, of course, done in the nicest possible way for humour reasons alone.

as for sixth form - sorry to disappoint - 37 year old author.
www.jonathanleeauthor.com

Reply to this Admin

Dan B
Jan 19, 2012 3:52pm

In reply to Jonathan Lee:

Complete with Frank Turner lyrics section; and yet you have the nerve to demand even-handedness from anyone else. *belm*

Reply to this Admin

Stavros P. Leibowitz
Jan 19, 2012 4:23pm

In reply to Jonathan Lee:

Well, you're 37 and you've written a book which, from what I can see from your website, is yet to be published. You're still in a day job, aren't you? But fair play to you for having a crack an' all that.

A review doesn't have to start from a level playing field. Indeed, a review will always contain some of level of bias. The fact that you choose to have Frank Turner's lyrics on your website would suggest a lack of objectivity from you.

The level playing field that you propose is available on any buyer's/product guide that you'll find on Amazon. The reason many people come to The Quietus is to get away from the kind of bland thinking/writing. There's plenty of stuff on here that I don't agree with and frankly, I'd be bored if I did. But that's what I like about this site. The thing is, you've done nothing to defend Turner. All you've done is make sad attempts at being patronising and accusing Josh of 'bad journalism' which shows how much you know. Being a critic and being a journalist are two different things. Just like being a published author is different from someone who has 40,000 unpublished words sitting on their hard drive.

So, how about it? Why not give us your defence of Turner rather than sniping away with meaningless barbs?

Reply to this Admin

Jonathan Lee
Jan 19, 2012 9:56pm

In reply to Dan B:

Absolutely. It's networking and promotion.

I suppose in hindsight I may have started my defence of Mr Turner from a slightly uneven playing field.

Reply to this Admin

Jonathan Lee
Jan 19, 2012 10:08pm

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

Fair play for a reasoned response. I must say that it has caused me minor levels of excitement in responding to the review just to test my own internal sarcasm levels. As a matter of interest, no offence was intended.

My defence of Frank would work something like this.

Frank Turner comes from a privileged background, schooling at Eton, son of an investment banker. I come from a Barnsley, South Yorkshire (say no more). Frank Turner writes intelligent, and often amusing songs, that are simply relevant to me. The song structures evoke excitement inside me, they may not be anything new or groundbreaking but music needn't be. The only goal is to connect with the listener. Which with me, he does. He writes songs about love using words I would have used. He writes songs about hope that make me excited about what can be achieved. He tells stories which take me back to early folk from centuries ago. You may deny he is the real thing and frankly (pardon the pun) I don't care about his politics. Simply, I love his music and poetry. And he uses the word photosynthesise.

Reply to this Admin

Jonathan Lee
Jan 19, 2012 10:10pm

In reply to Jonathan Lee:

Ps. my book should be published in autumn...

Reply to this Admin

Will
Jan 20, 2012 12:52pm

Bit harsh on Dickens, this.

Reply to this Admin

Rooksby
Jan 21, 2012 5:12pm

In reply to Jinty:

He's stolen one of their sleeves (The First 4 Years) for the cover of this Godawful compilation an'all... Is he HONESTLY equating his dismal racket with Black Flag's scarifying roar?

Reply to this Admin

Robbie Savage
Jan 22, 2012 10:34pm

Not a fan of Frank Turner, but I always thought he was pretty open about being on the libertarian right than the liberal left. Aren't his more openly political fans generally Tory/UKIP?

Reply to this Admin

Brian Creed
Jan 25, 2012 1:07pm

In reply to Robbie Savage:

Yes, Turner is openly a libertarian not a left wing liberal

Reply to this Admin

M
Jan 28, 2012 10:34am

In reply to Jonathan Lee:

I'd just like to completely miss the point of YOUR work in kind by letting you know that you should be ashamed of your, ahem, cover design. Its awfulness increases.

Reply to this Admin

Dan
Mar 14, 2012 12:52am

Bob Roberts was funny. Frank Turner isn't. This is supposed to be a joke though, right?

Reply to this Admin

Steve
Apr 9, 2012 5:43pm

The most pretentious piece of 'journalism' I have ever read. You are as informed about what you are writing as you claim Frank Turner is about his ideals. Frank had every right to claim deprivation was not an excuse for the riots....because it simply wasn't. I come from a equally 'deprived' back ground, growing up with very little, did I riot? No. This author is just another pathetic hipster thinking his/her opinion is better than any other, and taking an instant dislike to any artist that gets a mild amount of success. Once again, pathetic.

Reply to this Admin

Rosie
Apr 18, 2012 6:13pm

Ouch. But he played this show to a enormous crowd, who were singing along to every line. So what is the point? Also - FT has been on the road FOREVER. If anyone deserves an enormous crowd of fans singing along to his songs, it's probably him. And he probably won't care about anything else apart from that.

Reply to this Admin

Ellie
Apr 22, 2012 4:54pm

While it's fine to not like Frank Turner, and to disagree with his politics, this was a rather ill-informed article, containing out of context and outdated quotes. For example, 'Thatcher Fucked the Kids' is a song Frank refuses to play anymore, despite many fans requesting it, as he no longer agrees with it (since it was released about 6 years ago, it's fair enough if his opinions change. Perhaps talk about the actual album rather than individual songs that are no longer played released at the beginning of his solo career.) That quote is also out of context, as it ignores the rest of the song's message completely. In general, you're entitled to your opinion, but this article comes across as a bit self superior, and it's probably best to listen to what Frank has to say before making assumptions as to his personality.

Reply to this Admin

Kirsty
Apr 22, 2012 6:06pm

You, sir, should do your research. Anyone who has seen an interview with Mr Turner, seen him live or even read his tweets will know that he is not this pretentious, political, trying-to-change-the-world twat that you paint him to be. He sings about what is important to him, be it the death of the music hall, the mundanity of office work or love. He's a humble guy, who worked his way from tiny pub gigs to selling out Wembley f*cking Arena, and doesn't forget that fact. The comment noting how few of his songs are actually political is right - his songs are not overwhelmingly Billy Bragg-esque, which you seem to indicate they are. You're entitled to your own opinion, but it's wrong.

Reply to this Admin

Stavros P. Leibowitz
May 19, 2012 1:29pm

In reply to Kirsty:

Kirsty, since when has being an Etonian been seen as 'humble'?

Reply to this Admin

chris
Mar 25, 2013 11:21pm

Phew...I am not alone. He is shit.

Reply to this Admin