REVIEW: Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones

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Artist: Frank Turner
Album: England Keep My Bones
Genre: Folk/Rock
Label: Epitaph

Frank Turner had described this album ahead of its release as “a little bit down the middle.” On reflection, this is a fairly accurate summary – the album had a clear and vivid theme throughout in lyrical content, but wraps it in a diverse musical style that mixes minimalist and understated with searing and emphatic. It’s an immensely likeable release, glowing with a deep rooted love of familiarity and home. Even where its verbose patriotism might disengage as well as allure, the universality of its themes should mean it connects with a wide audience.

As is his custom, Turner mixes folk and more hardcore sounds to optimum effect, giving the harsher sounds a more accessible heart. This is finely illustrated by the opening song, “Eulogy,” which fades in on a rather beautiful wave of pensive horns. The vocals are clear and sharp, with a sudden implosion of cacophonous guitar and frenzied drums adding instant spark and hinting at the mixture of things to come. “Peggy Sang the Blues” has a slightly more muted tone, though the beat is gently enthralling. The guitar is kept acoustic while the bass and vocals add fervor, weaving together a beautifully accented swell of affection. The gorgeous instrumentation and consistent structuring keeps this sharp and pleasing throughout.

Indeed, the instrumentation throughout this album is the root of its charm. Everything is kept ostensibly simple, yet this combination of pristine vocals, mostly acoustic guitar, and decorative piano enriches the music and lends it a depth and diversity lacking from much gaudier efforts. This is well conveyed in “Rivers,” a musically sparse yet very profound exploration of home and attachment. Turner sings to a single guitar, in a heartfelt and earnest tone that lends a striking, yet delicate, niche to the song. “English Curse” is another memorable example – sang entirely a-cappella, it’s perhaps the most obviously folk song on the album, yet it’s to Turner’s credit that the lack of music is never felt. His vocals are infused with such solemn gravitas as to carry the song alone, and indeed the bareness of the track lets it stand out that little bit more.

“I Am Disappeared” is a delightful track, deliciously structured and masterfully executed. It opens in a stripped-down fashion before building to a persistent, rushing percussive encore which injects immediacy and rhythm. The addition of a twinkling piano sparks a touch of magic so that when an electric guitar joins the fray the song already feels gorgeously nuanced and evolves to a natural, soaring conclusion. “One Foot Before the Other” uses the instruments to similarly dextrous effect, though here the piano works differently – offsetting a prescient guitar and ominous bass line to create an almost sinister tone.

“If Ever I Stray” is founded on a catchy, surging beat designed perfectly for singalongs – indeed the music is kept minimal until the final third, allowing it to build to a triumphant conclusion. “Nights Become Days” is a gorgeous song – almost a pause for breath after the relatively brisk pace of the preceding songs, it’s haunting and elegant. While not anything new in terms of structure or execution, the combination of tepid, lilting vocals (deliberately muted to effect a pensive tone, perchance) and gradually swelling instruments means it sounds just as vivid and fresh as the feelings detailed therein. It contrasts strikingly with “Redemption,” which lyrically touches upon despondency and loss. While the song opens on the same minimal note favoured throughout the record, as the verses elapse it comes together more fully with an insistent and almost elegiac piano refrain that binds all in a tangled web of melancholy. It sounds beautiful, but it’s almost heartrending too.

The concluding track may be the only dud note on the album. “Glory Hallelujah” is a rather jubilant declaration that there is no god, which is all well and good except for how bizarrely mismatched it feels. The music aches with a jazzy, celebratory tone and there’s a choral backing to add to this, but it just doesn’t gel. The music feels too at odds with the lyrics, meaning the album unfortunately goes out with a whimper in lieu of a bang.

However, this one sleight aside, England Keep My Bones is a stunning album. It’s warm, soothing, and yet rousing, mixing genuinely tender asides with vehement declarations of patriotism in a glorious serenade to one’s homeland. For all that the latter point may become repetitious after a time, the more personal tone adopted in the final act gives it genuine heart. Poignant at times and never short of exhilarating, this deserves your full attention.

SCORE: 9/10
Review written by: Grace Duffy

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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