Frank Turner won’t tell you what he thinks.
Taking the stage at Ale House on Tuesday, the singer-songwriter is fresh off the May release of his album, Be More Kind. Normally known for his strong opinions, the album sees Turner in a more pensive, uncertain mood than fans will recognize.
He doesn’t have the answers anymore, and can no longer share them with his listeners. Instead, he’s asking for kindness.
These new songs are an ambitious attempt to find some tenderness in this media-saturated, polarized political scene. The album is a modern day survival guide for the Trump era, jammed with unease but taking comfort in his relationships.
“One of the criticisms of the record is I’m sitting on the fence,” Turner told The Journal over the phone. “I don’t see how that is fair.”
For Turner, he’s already written his big political comments, chronicling his personal experiences of drug abuse and social dissatisfaction. It was time to write something different.
“There are [other bands] out there making these forceful statements. I didn’t feel the need to tread the same ground as them. I wanted to make a slightly tougher point,” he said.
When he was on tour in the U.S. during the 2016 election, Turner found the inspiration to express more complexity in his music. He was struck by the fragmenting political discussion he saw on the tour. It was easy to feel lost.
He wondered how this confusion could lead to writing a fist-pumping anthem.
The punk music he listened to rarely involved doubt; he was unsure if that sort of political unease could become a rock song.
As he started writing, he honed in on the personal details that would still carry meaning for listeners feeling isolated. Its human elements guided him to experiment more.
As a result, Turner drifted further from his punk roots for the bulk of the album. Angry tunes like “1933” still make an appearance, but they’re no longer the main draw.
He seems to be raging more against the situation than the machine.
The sound has softened. Its early harder edges are worn down and Turner’s title track is a plea, asking the listener to “Be more kind.”
Synth-backed choruses and playful melodies replace the strident rock he introduced himself with. It sounds like he’s taking a breath.
His lyrics still profile the world unraveling—“1933” is a reference to the historical rise of fascism; “Brave Face” prepares for the end of the world—but they’re never despairing.
There’s hope underneath, captured in the blue eyed soul inflections on the latter and the outright rebellion in the former.
He’s only more conflicted, unsure of how to act in an unpredictable world. It’s sense of ground “evaporating” as the world changes.
Debates become violent, nationalism takes office—and Turner feels like “people [are] desperately trying to hold onto this sense of ground.”
When Turner comes to Kingston on Tuesday, it’ll be part of his search for that stability.
He’ll ask his audience to be kinder.
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