FRANK TURNER – Be More Kind (XtraMile Recordings/Polydor 6738173)

Be More KindThe globe-circling gigging machine and humanist that is Frank Turner might surprise some with his seventh solo studio album, Be More Kind. Fearlessly true to himself, as always, he embraces an ambitious new musical palette, while his smart, sharp lyrics display maturity in the face of an uncertain world.

The surprises start at the first track, the comforting ‘Don’t Worry’, as Turner softens out his trademark vocal-cord shredding snarl over a chilled handclap groove. It seems right to bookend the album with this and the powerful, unapologetic closing track, ‘Get It Right’.

Love, optimism and humanity abound, from the tender, and drily English, ‘Going Nowhere’, to the ticking guitar (echoes of Wreckless Eric’s ‘Whole Wide World’) of ‘There She Is’ and the sparkly, Cure-ish pop of ‘Little Changes’.

The big, jagged ‘21st Century Survival Blues’ form a romantic, apocalyptic survival plan, “When the harsh winds blow and the world gets cold, You can’t trust kindness and you can’t eat gold”. As does ‘Brave Face’, with its thrashing guitars, churning organ and gospelly chorus.

With the waspish ‘1933’ we’re back in more familiar Turner territory, its jangly thrash-pop warning of the dangers of normalising bad ideas. Speaking of which, ‘Make America Great Again’ boldly harnesses and subverts the Donald Trump campaign slogan. Witty self-deprecation, “Well I know I’m just an ignorant Englishman,… So if you’ll forgive my accent and the cheek of it, Here’s some suggestions from the special relationship” slams up against the kind of power chords and 80s synth of a John Hughes teen-movie soundtrack.

Angular guitars and funk bass morph into swirling synth choruses on ‘Blackout’, an intentionally ‘clubby’ song about power cuts. The pattering ‘Common Ground’ is a plea for rational communication, whilst his sometime tour buddy, Will Varley, provides the inspiration for the beautiful ‘The Lifeboat’.

Since first encountering Frank Turner singing and playing guitar on an unlovely landing in the Royal Festival Hall in the Campfire Punkrock days of 2006, he’s occupied a small but distinct corner of my musical affections. Sometimes frustrating, always interesting, he manages to keep his work relevant and rewarding, even if I’m not entirely sold on the whole 80s vibe.

It’s an album that grows better with each listen and one that feels like a much-needed step back from the confrontational brink. In particular, the title track, ‘Be More Kind’ with its strings and tender plucked guitar, lyrically based on ideas from Clive James and Kurt Vonnegut, is a simple manifesto for our confusing, complicated times: “In a world that has decided that it’s going to lose its mind, be more kind, my friend, try to be more kind”. Can’t really argue with that.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.frank-turner.com

‘Little Changes’ – official video: