I knew about a minute in to England Keep My Bones that I was going to love this record. Frank Turner, former hardcore punk rocker turned singer/songwriter has put together a near-perfect twelve songs on his fourth full-length solo effort.
The thing that hooked me was the opening track, “Eulogy.” It’s a short song, and about half of it is a horn-led intro. Once the lyrics start, they give a sparkling example of the album to follow:
Well I haven’t always been a perfect person
And I haven’t done what mom and dad had dream
But on the day I die
I’ll say, at least I fucking tried
That’s the only eulogy I need
It really is a kind of opening statement on what you’re about to hear. In one record we get simple pop songs, English folk songs, post-punk, and an all-encompassing feeling of sincere effort. Now, maybe Turner is a skilled enough songwriter to evoke that feeling without really trying. I haven’t listened to any of his previous work, so I don’t know. I doubt it, though. You can usually tell the b.s. from the truth when it comes to music.
That earnestness is necessary for a lot of these songs to work. For example, the song “I Still Believe,” which has Turner singing about rock and roll being our savior, would never work if he didn’t believe it completely. In different hands, songs that espouse the healing power of rock have sounded corny at best. Here it works incredibly well. Enough so that I started believing the words he was singing.
Skipping ahead a couple tracks now, down to “One Foot Before The Other.” We finally get into some of the punk roots that Turner has deep inside him. The guitars really come out to play here. Honestly, the first time I heard it I was thinking, “This could be a Linkin Park track.” No disrespect, sir. But that’s the kind of music it reminded me of. He also gives us a peek into some of his influences, as this song mentions Woody Guthrie and Dostoevsky-previously he’d mentioned Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.
“English Curse” takes us back to the early centuries of English folk music. It’s a fairly traditional song about a curse bestowed upon any man who steals the land of an Englishman. Definitely an interesting choice to leave this song on the record, and I’m glad he did. An album is supposed to be a complete story, and this tale would be incomplete without it. England Keep My Bones is all about Turner’s love for his home country, and this kind of song is perfectly in line with England’s musical history.
I’m gonna skip all the way to the end of the record now, as the song “Glory Hallelujah” was really the clincher for me. As much as I knew I’d like the record based on the first song, the finale made me hit repeat. The album has a lot of talk about saviors and souls and all that stuff, but the last track turns it all on it’s head. The opening stanza:
Brothers and sisters, have you heard the news?
The storm has lifted and there’s nothing to lose,
So swap your confirmation for your dancing shoes,
Because there never was no God.
Now, he’s not bashing religion or people who believe in this song. What he’s really saying, I think, is that we shouldn’t do right by each other because that’s how you get into Heaven, but because it’s the decent thing to do. You can’t pin all your dreams on praying to your whatever and hoping for the best, you have to go out and make it happen for yourself. you also can’t blame every bad thing that happens to you. So don’t worry Christians, Frank Turner still loves you.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about doing a mid-year Top Ten albums list, and it’s constantly in flux. England Keep My Bones has been on the list from the first listen, and it remains up there. It came out a couple weeks ago, so this review is a little late. I would highly recommend you pick up this record. It blends a bunch of different genres together, and the result is an amazing example of what great writing can accomplish.