Frank Turner’s sixth studio album Positive Songs for Negative People hit the shelves earlier this week ahead of a 33-show US tour in September and October, and an 11-night tour of the UK in November. Combining solo simple and catchy melodies with great lyrics, this is a solid album with plenty of good tracks.
From the beginning of the first track it’s clear that Turner’s taken a slightly different approach to writing the songs on this album than he has on his previous five. The opening track, The Angel of Islington, inspired by the Angel in Islington (who’d have thunk?) is just Turner and his guitar, which makes for a nice change from the heavier opening tracks on his previous albums.
But all change when we hit Get Better. It’s no longer just a man and his guitar. Enter the full backing band The Sleeping Souls, ripe with energy and a tight, full sound. The song itself is great and as you listen to it, you begin to suspect why Turner’s named this album Positive Songs for Negative People. Even the positive people of the world can’t help but feel a little more positive as we join Turner on what feels like a personal journey to a better place. It’s a song about picking up the pieces from things that aren’t going well, fixing the mess you’re in and remembering that things can and will be better, “because we’re not dead yet.”
Indeed, the rest of the album strikes me as being a somewhat personal journey for Turner, and one that he’s inviting us to join him on. The Next Storm takes us on another journey through difficult times (the storm that he keeps referring to) until we eventually reach a point where he proclaims “Rejoice! The storm has passsed.” This storm, incidentally, makes another appearance in The Opening Act of Spring, in which our journey takes a short respite and we instead pause, asking for forgiveness for whatever wrongs we’ve done on our journey to where we are.
Glorious You is less about journeying with Turner than it is about stopping by to help someone who needs help, and encouraging them to see themselves in a positive light.While the message behind it is admirable and lovely, so far, PSFNP has taken us on a journey of self-betterment and self-improvement, where Glorious You takes that thought and puts it firmly to one side. My initial reaction to this track was that it felt a little out of place on the album – or at least, on the album so far. But as I continued to listen to it, and re-listen to it, I realised that it acts as a sort of bookend – as one journey began with Get Better, so that one finishes and a new one begins with Glorious You. This new journey we’re on now is about being positive towards other people.
With Mittens we get a welcome respite from the high-energy, fast-pacedness of the album so far. That’s not to say that Mittens is dull, or low-energy; quite the opposite, in fact. It’s just a different kind of energy that we’re experiencing now. There’s something inherently relatable about this song. Everybody’s experienced what Turner’s singing about here, and it doesn’t need me to explain it.
I’m not going to go through this on a track-by-track basis, because the music does a splendid job on its own of establishing what journey it’s taking us on. By the time the album has played through, it’s easy to sense that we’re no longer in the same place that we were when we embarked on this musical journey 45 minutes previously. Personal highlights of that journey include Demons, particularly the acoustic version (available on the Deluxe copy only), as well as Love Forty Down.
Other critics have suggested that this album is one of Turner’s lesser works and have even gone as far as to say it’s derivative of his previous works. I disagree wholeheartedly. This is an album with an entirely different meaning, and for me it’s the underlying message of getting people who feel negative about whatever they’re feeling negative about to try to overcome the hurdles and the demons they face and become more positive people. I think that’s an admirable quality in a musician, to try to provide their audience with some kind of stepping stone to become better – and more positive – people. Sure, the album has some setbacks; but if we look hard enough, so does every album. To try and find negativity in an album whose central theme is so obviously positivity, is to me, a desperate misunderstanding of the music.
Bravo, Mr Turner. More of this please.
Positive Songs for Negative People is available now on Xtra Mile Recordings.