Album Review: Frank Turner – “No Man’s Land”
It’s safe to say that Frank Turner’s latest album is one that’s caused a bit of controversy among the rock community. At this year’s Camden Rocks Festival, Turner announced that his new album would be a collection of songs about the unsung female heroes of history, recorded with an all-female backing band and production crew. Inevitably, it’s attracted a few cries of hypocrisy with one review sneeringly dismissing it as fifty minutes of mansplaining.
For what it’s worth, my view is that Turner went into this with honourable intentions, and I don’t believe he meant to patronise anyone, but such a (sadly) touchy subject was always going to attract this sort of criticism. Even reviewing something like this is going to be something of a minefield as everyone is going to have their own take on the rights and wrongs of it, so I’m going to do my best to try and leave any sort of politics out of this review and concentrate on the music. Wish me luck.
This is a fairly quick comeback for Frank with his previous album, Be More Kind, only having come out 12 months ago and been one of his strongest for a while. However, opening track Jinny Bingham’s Ghost is a fast Ferocious Dog style slice of acoustic-led folk-punk and gets this off to a strong start, while the upbeat Sister Rosetta tells the story of one of the original soul singers who never quite got the credit she deserved.
Thereafter though, No Man’s Land drops into a mostly mid-paced and stripped-down set of songs and if I’m honest, some of the songs do tend to merge into each other musically, although there’s the odd bit of innovation such as on the jazzy Nica and the punky The Lioness. What saves it though is that Turner remains a good storyteller and, whatever your take on whether this album compromises mansplaining or not, he’s on good form lyrically, investing the songs with enough heart and enthusiasm that you should hopefully be in no doubt that he’s genuine about what he’s doing. Songs such as The Death of Dora Hand and a re-recorded Silent Key (originally on 2015’s Positive Songs For Negative People) are thoughtful slices of acoustic led folk rock, and hold up well.
I guess what you make of this record will depend on your take on the subject matter, and I can understand why some among the feminist community have decried it for being patronising – to be honest, Turner was arguably always going to be in for some criticism on that front, and maybe there’s an argument to be said that it arguably therefore took some guts on his part to go through with this project. But for what it’s worth, while Frank Turner has done better albums musically, this one definitely holds up well and is a good addition to his catalogue of work.
Certainly one of the most controversial albums of the summer, there are always going to be some people who have issues with a male songwriter attempting to tell the tales of unsung female icons of bygone years, but if you're happy to look past that issue then "No Man's Land" is a good solid thoughtful album from Frank Turner which definitely bears up well to repeated listening. Go into this one with an open mind and you should find plenty to enjoy therein.