Sunday, June 25, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1020: Frank Turner

It’s been a lovely weekend, starting with a Friday night dinner date with my lovely wife,  then a lazy Saturday afternoon wandering town with a buddy. After a couple of nights of drinking I’m looking forward to a quiet and restorative Sunday.

I also managed to find time to buy five new albums because hey, that’s what I do. They are:
  • First Aid Kit “The Big Black & the Blue”
  • Gillian Welch “Soul Journey”
  • Justin Townes Earle “Kids in the Street”
  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit “The Nashville Sound”
  • Caroline Rose “I Will Not Be Afraid”
Coming soon (or not so soon, depending on how the dice roll) to a blog near you.

Disc 1020 is…Sleep is for the Week
Artist: Frank Turner

Year of Release: 2007

What’s up with the Cover? A guy looks out the window. He looks concerned, but if the buildings in my neighbourhood were that ramshackle I’d be concerned as well. He’s probably concerned they’re going to fall over, which would account for his pale skin: he’s probably too afraid to go outside.

How I Came To Know It: This was just me digging into Frank Turner’s back catalogue. Although this is the earliest album of his that I have, I bought it last because for a while it was very hard to find. I assume they reprinted it recently.

How It Stacks Up:  I have six Frank Turner albums which in terms of full length studio albums is all of them. I really liked “Sleep is for the Week” but competition among Frank Turner albums is fierce. I put it fifth, just ahead of “Positive Songs for Negative People”.

Ratings: 4 stars

While “Sleep is for the Week” is Frank Turner’s first solo release, he was already a seasoned musician by 2007 from previous projects like “Million Dead.” This musical maturity is in evidence on “Sleep is for the Week,” which shows good range and thoughtful lyrics to go with Turner’s relative youthful exuberance (he was 26).

If you’re more familiar with Frank’s later releases (as I was) then “Sleep is for the Week” will feel a bit softer and folksier. Frank still rocks out in places, but the album relies a lot on acoustic guitar strumming and a stripped down production. This is a good thing, as it lets the vocals come to the fore, where Frank’s inspirational lyrics can hit with maximum impact.

Turner’s songs always feel intensely personal and autobiographical. He draws you in and makes you feel like he’s sharing a moment with you. It can be a moment of protest, regret or just a celebratory anthem, but he is the master of creating a moment. I think it is a big reason his fans (me included) are so dedicated, often following him around through multiple tour dates, singing every word back to him like we wrote it ourselves.

The album begins with one of my all-time favourite Frank Turner songs. “The Real Damage” is a song about wondering whether your party lifestyle is sustainable, and whether you even want it to be anymore:

“I woke up on a sofa in an unfamiliar house
Surrounded by sleeping folks that I didn’t know
On failing to find my friends
I decided that it was clearly time to go.”

It is a conversation most of us have with ourselves at around 26, but Frank being Frank, turns it into an existential crisis:

“It was about then that I realized I was
Half-way through
The best years of my life.”

Having had a bit of the old self-destructive path in my youth, I have awaked on that same sofa, with the same regret-filled thoughts. Fortunately, I got better, but it is fun to safely revisit the experience through song.

Like a lot of the songs on this record, “The Real Damage” doesn’t have a traditional chorus, so much as it has a couple of musical concepts that play back and forth against each other as Turner unfolds a narrative. For all this, he always manages to hit high points that make you want to sing along.

Turner’s albums often feature heartbreak, and “Sleep is for the Week” has plenty to offer. “Romantic Fatigue” is about how all those failed efforts at relationships help fuel his songwriting, and “Worse Things Happen At Sea” is that awful final conversation had with a person you used to love, right before you sling your bag over your shoulder and head out to look for a new place to live.

When Turner gets political, it is always from an intensely personal perspective. “Once We Were Anarchists” is a about wanting to change the world, but just feeling worn down. As Turner tells it:

The times they aren’t a-changing
Yeah, England’s still shit and its still raining
And everybody’s jaded, tired and bored.”

I think of this song as a prequel to “Love, Ire and Song” a song where he shakes off his lethargy and calls his audience to action. On “Once We Were Anarchists” Turner is still wallowing, but it is an honest and self-examined wallow.

Overall, “Sleep is for the Week” is the soundtrack for being in your mid-twenties. These are songs about re-examining watershed moments of youth, reconsidering what kind of world you want to live in, and (hopefully) growing into the person you want to be. Coming to this album in your mid-forties is just as affecting though, because it reminds you that those questions never get fully answered, but you’ve got to keep asking them all the same.

Best tracks: The Real Damage, Father’s Day, Once We Were Anarchists, Wisdom Teeth, The Ballad of Me and My Friends

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