thu 23/05/2024

CD: Frank Turner - No Man's Land | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Frank Turner - No Man's Land

CD: Frank Turner - No Man's Land

A richly conceived, blandly executed history lesson

Frank Turner’s compendium of extraordinary female lives, from the “impudence” of a Byzantine princess to his mum via Mata Hari, is admirably ambitious and historically intriguing. The arena-playing folk-punk digs deeper into factual byways than he has any career need to, insisting on his own wayward course.

“Jenny Bingham’s Ghost” sympathetically revives the 17th century landlady who poisoned and cooked abusive men and was condemned as a witch, and draws idealistic threads to the agreeably seedy rock dive on the site of her tavern, Camden Underworld, and its ongoing role as “a sanctuary for all broken boys and girls”. “Eye of the Day” is a meditative reimagining of the moment of Mata Hari’s death, while “The Lioness” is a fierce tribute to early 20th century Egyptian feminist and rebel Huda Sha’awari, surely a rock’n’roll first. Such historical investigation does, though, bear comparison to the alternative black queens assembled on Sons of Kemet’s Your Queen Is A Reptile, and Darren Hayman’s more spindly and oblique English concept albums.

Turner has always been comfortable with unconventional viewpoints, not disavowing his public school past as violently as, say, Joe Strummer, and dismissing both left- and right-wing ideologies while plotting a libertarian course from Eton roots. As shown by 2012’s digital-era update to The Clash’s “Death Or Glory”, “The Ballad of Me And My Friends”, he is also wryly suspicious of rock’s own mythologies. But this self-consciously individual stance also leaves a distance in his heartfelt, well-intentioned, industrious writing.

You can hear the same lack in his music. For all the bare a cappella verses and surging orchestral choruses, Catherine Marks’ production matches Turner’s bland everyman voice in its sanded down 21st century smoothness, no stray thread or rusty nail left to catch you unawares. You can be punk, and Ed Sheeran's sonic peer.

The emotionally unruly closing song “Rosemary Jane” is the exception, as Turner pays tribute to his mother. This flipside to 2007’s excoriation of one unfaithful parent, “Father’s Day”, places him firmly in his mum and sisters’ camp, decrying “the money she gets from a man who is dead to himself and dead to everyone else”. Turner’s feminism clearly begins at home, and breathes most deeply there.

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