Following on from the recent compilation album Songbook, prolific singer-songwriter Frank Turner is back with his seventh studio effort – Be More Kind. Taken from a quote of a Clive James poem on the always cheery subject of mortality, the ‘Be More Kind’ Turner refers to is ‘a lesson that all of us, myself could do to learn’. The concept of the record in human kindness and empathy is at the least a concise one.
The intimate, jangly hopefulness of ‘Don’t Worry’ opens the proceedings, paving the way for the multitude of anthemic singalongs to follow. Any calmness this brought about though is quickly but temporarily dissipated by the heavy lead single ‘1933’, a great example of Turner’s forward-thinking brand of aggro-punk: anthemic aggression, albeit with a harmonica solo for contrast. Turner’s cautionary warning for the masses – ‘Don’t mistake your house burning down for the dawn’ – could be interpreted as an appeal against political complacency.
Be More Kind was recorded when the EU referendum and Donald Trump’s election were still fresh in the mind, and the influence of these events is made apparent but is not overwhelming at all on much of the album. Turner makes his stand against the (orange?) elephant in the room of US Politics with ‘Make America Great Again’, imploring his listeners to ‘make racists ashamed again’. ’21st Century Survival Blues’ comes across as rather nihilist from its title, but true to Frank Turner’s nature it serves as more of a glimmer of hope in a desolate political landscape than a complete retreat into despair.
The first major shade of experimentation comes on ‘Blackout’ – the synthesizer-heavy, new wave-Esque chorus somewhat channeling a more intimate form of M83. Perhaps this is about as experimental as Be More Kind gets, despite the billing given to it. The darker tones of ‘The Lifeboat’ provide a slight downer to the proceedings, yet by the end of the song it lifts out the listener by the end with a euphorically beautiful, well-constructed string arrangement. The more personal, ambient moments are definitely when Turner’s songwriting is at its strongest: ‘Little Changes’ – written about Turner’s experiences with CBT therapy – is a particular highlight.
Be More Kind is a classic Frank Turner contraption – somewhat upbeat folk-infused storytelling with an aggressive tinge that is let out every once in awhile, combined with a relatable but not overt political narrative. While thematically it perhaps is a line in the sand, the quality has not dipped at all. Be More Kind is one of the most honest, yet broad efforts that Turner has brought to the table: full of classic anthems with a hopeful, relatable message that we could all use at the moment.