Few artists have embodied rock’s earthy aesthetic more heartily than Frank Turner. In the six years following the break up of The Million Dead (Turner’s original band), the punk turned folk star has toured relentlessly. Never turning down an opportunity or audience Turner has played everywhere from quaint folk festivals and tiny pubs to huge arenas and, most recently, mammoth metal festivals.
This dogmatic commitment to touring has seen the Hampshire native cross genre boundaries, finding fame and fandom across the entire rock and pop spectrum. With the hard work seemingly over and at the height of his fame, 2011 appears to be Turner’s year, his chance to snatch the mainstream’s attention with a career defining LP.
Sadly, England Keep My Bones is not a creative or artistic breakthrough. Turner’s voice rings out with great import and urgency, like a town crier, Turner’s assured delivery demands attention, but his lyricism lacks the potency of his phraseology.
“Eulogy” strains for grandeur but belies a spirit who tries hard but falls short, while “Peggy Sang The Blues” neatly intertwines Srg. Pepper’s… psychedelic organ noise into a unremarkable yearning FM radio folk ditty. “Glory Hallelujah” is an embarrassingly naïve piece of songwriting that, in an attempt to illuminate the folly of religion, points the finger of blame firmly in the direction of the supposed notion of God, hypocritically alleviating human responsibility for the world’s woes.
At his worst Turner indulges in rose tinted reflection. Conjuring images of old Albion on “Rivers”, Turner evokes the memories and sound of a unified homeland but unlike The Libertines and PJ Harvey, Turner only offers a tepid ode devoid of urgent 21st century cultural significance.
At its best England Keep My Bones is a masterfully produced, rich sounding, folk-fusion album that places glimmers of Manic Street Preachers style reverb and Radiohead-ish minor chords alongside stadium sized piano lines, that recall both Coldplay and Take That, atop traditional strumming patterns.
Turner still feels like a painfully literal and angsty punk front man trying to wear the skin of vital 21st century troubadour, so it is perhaps unsurprisingly, that his finest moments are those derived from his post-hardcore background; the blustering “One Foot Before The Other”, the propulsively quick lyricism of “I Am Disappeared”, and the thoughtful endnote “Redemption”.
There are worst crimes in this world than striving for greatness and falling short, and as the strangely prescient “Eulogy” and “I Still Believe” foreshadow, England Keep My Bones is a noble effort that fails to reach the heady heights of societal or artistic importance; instead offering a slickly produced, highly enjoyable and undeniably infectious blue print capable of taking full bodied folk from the fringe to the nation’s biggest arenas.
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