In many ways, Frank Turner has somewhat outgrown his purpose. Once hailed as everyone’s favourite underdog, the man who defied the odds, stared failure in the face and laughed right at it, Turner has become so well-liked, so…. successful, that he is almost at times in danger of becoming a caricature of his own punk, stick-it-to the man ethos. Tiny pubs have become vast arenas, whilst friend’s sofas have become swanky hotels, and yet, over 1700 gigs later, Positive Songs for Negative People sees the 33 year old emitting as much infectious enthusiasm, down-to-earth sincerity and joie-de vivre as on day one of his meandering musical career.
Emerging from the ruins of a destructive, agonizing and sobering break up, which inspired the beautifully honest yet agonizing sensitive ‘Tape Deck Heart,’ an album that NME (rather harshly) labeled a ‘protracted cry-wank,’ Turner finds himself still trying to come to terms with his loss on ‘Positive Songs…’ acoustic opener ‘The Angel Islington.’ ‘By the waters of the Thames,’ he coos, ‘I resolve to start again.’
And start again he does. The album roars into life with the barnstormingly good ‘Get Better,’ a snarling rock anthem of classic proportions. ‘Draw a line underneath all of this unhappiness/ Come on now, let’s fix this mess/ We could get better /Because we’re not dead yet!’ It’s a song of spirit and hope for anyone who has ever had their heart broken, and one that is delivered with the gusto of a musician at his glorious angst-y best.
This sense of euphoria continues on ‘The Next Storm,’ which sees an increasingly optimistic Turner looking toward a brighter future, ‘Rejoice! Rebuild! The Storm as passed!’ There are still signs, however, that despite this defiant stance, the punk rock troubadour is not the man he used to be. On ‘The Opening Act of Spring’ Turner is outright downbeat, ‘I have fallen down and I’m so much worse than I have ever been,’ whilst on the regretful ‘Mittens,’ he laments that he and a lover, ‘used to fit like mittens, but never like gloves.’
It is to Turner’s credit that despite all this inner turmoil, the album very much has a definitive sound and ethos, with his daring spirit eventually overcoming the despair, enabling the former Million-Dead singer to look back without regret on ‘Demons,’ ‘At this truth we have arrived: God damn, it’s great to be alive.’ Much of this is undoubtedly owed to the brilliant production work of Butch Walker, and to the decision to record ‘Positive songs…’ live, something that gives the album a distinctly raw and uncut feel, bringing the listener closer to the emotional turmoil Turner is trying to banish.
The album closes with two eulogies. ‘Silent Key’ is a slightly bizarre tribute to schoolteacher and Challenger disaster victim Christa McAuliffe, which feels a little out of place on what is on the whole, another deeply personal record. ‘Song For Josh,’ however, is a gut-wrenchingly beautiful ode to Josh Burdette, Turner’s close friend and Washington DC punk club manager, who committed suicide in 2013 aged 35. The track is recorded live from the venue, and Turner’s grief is palpable. ‘I let you down in your darkness, I wasn’t there,’ he whispers, struggling to contain his emotions. His voice may quiver, but the message is clear; live each day as if it were your last, and have no regrets.