The first time I heard Frank Turner play, I dismissed him. It was only a Youtube clip of a song my friend had put up, trying to convince me to go to Frank Turner’s show at my university later that year. I wasn’t impressed and declined. Who was Frank Turner anyway? I wish I could defend it as a folly of my youth but it was barely three years ago, around the time that he must have started gathering material for his new compilation album.
Frank Turner isn’t known for being a technically strong singer, but he gives his soul to his songs. You can positively hear his efforts, as he wrings every note out of his body, like on Queen’s “Somebody to Love”. It’s so evident he and the Sleeping Souls are having fun, playing with the timings of lines and freestyling on the piano. As a first track on “The Third Three Years” it’s a good indication of what’s to follow: songs about great feelings, freedom and simply enjoyment of music.
It wasn’t even the Olympic Games in London that changed my mind about him. Although I watched the opening ceremony, our broadcast abroad didn’t include his performance. I just heard him one day in late September 2012 and a switch flipped. I couldn’t remember which song off “England Keep My Bones” it even was, because I love them all now, but back then I just realised I liked it. This was really good music, by somebody who knew exactly what he was doing, writing his own music and lyrics, and making artistic choices that work.
There are some fantastic recording choices on this compilation, such as including background noise on the track “Keira”, creating a sense of closeness also present on his cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl”, like Frank Turner was singing just to you. In the same way “Happy New Year”, a collaboration with Jon Snodgrass, draws you in because of the great banter between the two at the beginning, introducing the track. “The Third Three Years” manages to get personal to the listener, not just because of the relatability of tracks that you can usually find in Frank Turner’s songs, but also personal to him through the songs he chose to cover.
I naturally went to the gig my friend had told me about all those months before. Attending a gig is so different to listening to a regular album, and “The Third Three Years” does its best to transport you to a gig through this medium, including live tracks such as “The Ballad of Me and My Friends” from previous albums. Another little throw-back to what Frank Turner’s music used to be like comes with “Dan’s Song”, where he ushers in the punk rock sound that launched him to fame – after shedding his hardcore roots from Million Dead – and he gets political in “Something of Freedom” and “Riot Song”. The juxtaposition is odd though, touching themes like poverty and speaking idealistically. Can he speak with authenticity when he’s made it big?
Frank Turner is wary of being misinterpreted about politics, not happy with how people incorrectly perceive him in the media, and he’s developed his personal politics, so the tracks may be unusual, but they are an intrinsic part of who he is, and to quote him, “the world works better when people are left alone to do what they want as much as possible.” And he is, of course, his strongest critic.
But contrasting the loud energetic numbers, or the warm inviting sounds of “Fields of June”, a seductive duet with Emily Walker from Red Clay Halo, there is plenty of different material. Some songs fall flat to me. “Pancho & Lefty”, a Townes Van Zandt cover, feels lost without meaningful context; hard to achieve on an album with the purpose to gather together all covers, EP releases and B-Tracks off single releases. “Tell Tale Signs” and “Broken Piano” off his latest album “Tape Deck Heart” however strike melancholic notes perfectly, and the sheer desperation of trying to get through to you on “Plain Sailing Weather” is raw. What a genius masterstroke to set up the recording with the microphone farther away from Frank and the band, recreating this metaphorical distance.
His last album, “Tape Deck Heart”, was described as a break-up album, so it doesn’t surprise to find the songs emotional and heart-wrecking, but there’s a balance that suggests that while putting together this release Frank Turner’s heart may have mended. In an interview with the Cambridge News he revealed that material on his new album to follow “Tape Deck Heart” “is much more optimistic”. In that vein “The Way I Tend to Be”, a teaser track for “The Third Three Years” made available to the public, seems to reconcile the past and the present satisfactorily, and matches very well with the inclusion of “Bigfoot”, originally by the Weakerthans.
My personal highlight though was “Live and Let Die” of James Bond-fame. One of my favourite title songs in the franchise, this cover captures the spirit of an entire orchestra in just two instruments. In what I can only describe as an Eastern influence through the mandolin-shredding melody, “Live and Let Die” combines all that we know of the sound of Frank Turner: a voice with a decidedly metal hardcore punk influence, folky instrument sounds and yet also something decidedly English.
No matter what his personal politics are and what you think of them, Frank Turner has you feeling something strong.