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If Ever I Stray

Genre devotion in Frank Turner's music - do musicians owe us consistency?

On 4th May 2018, Frank Turner released his seventh studio album, titled Be More Kind.Strongly political, the record features songs like the sarcastically named anti-racism anthem ‘Make America Great Again’ and cynical ballad ‘21stCentury Survival Blues’. Yet this wasn’t what caused some fans to take offence at the album – it was the fact that it was considered too close to the kind of pop that Turner has taken care to stand apart from over recent years.

Taking a quick glance at his Wikipedia page, it’s easy to see that his music has changed dramatically over the years. Beginning in post-hardcore punk band Million Dead, after their 2005 split Turner switched suddenly to a solo blend of folk and punk, predominantly on acoustic guitar, releasing classic albums Sleep Is for the Week (2007), Love Ire and Song (2008) and Poetry of The Deed (2009). These albums show clear evolution, but set up a style of music and lyrics that Turner is increasingly becoming haunted by. Admittedly, the three albums are beautiful. They range from bitter to hopeful, desperate to furious, and sarcastic to just plain sad. Anthems like Long Live The Queen, written about his friend Lex who passed away from cancer stand as a triumphant and desperate celebration of life, emulating the combination of melancholy but furious hope that Turner’s fans adore. To some, this is the kind of music that raised Turner to success, and this devotion to pure and unpolished emotion is what they love about him.

Turner’s next album, England Keep My Bones (2011) similarly echoed these ideas, albeit in a slightly more polished way. However, it was with Tape Deck Heart (2013) that Turner began to shift his style. Whereas the earlier albums leaned heavily on raw emotion and acoustic sounds, with some recorded literally in the living rooms of his friends, Turner’s current sound is much more polished and produced, with Be More King being labelled “indie rock/indie folk”, and opposed to the “folk punk/folk rock” of his earlier days. Instead of playing dive bars and pub shows, Turner has now sold out Wembley, and although he remains committed to playing smaller venues. Yet has this shift meant that he was lost the heart of his music? This calls into question whether it’s right for musicians to move away from the genre that they originally began in, and whether it’s right for their supporters to accuse them of selling out if they begin to shift towards more accepted styles like pop or indie rock. 

The main accusation levelled against Turner is that in moving to a more produced sound, he has lost the raw emotion that originally made people fall in love with his sound. Turner is open about his autobiographic style of song writing, and over the years, we have seen him break his own heart through music, and slowly mend it. We, as humans, are constantly going through emotional turmoil, and having this sort of honesty about everything from his troubled relationship with his father, alcoholism, and breakdown of long-term relationships from the perspective of the person who is leaving have comforted people of all ages, including me, when we’ve faced similar difficulties.

Possibly the real reason why people are angry with Turner’s music then isn’t that he has sold out and somehow lost his devotion to the genre of music that he won our hearts with. Maybe the real reason for people’s anger is that Turner isn’t writing sad, desperate music anymore, because he’s finally happy. Instead of going through a string of toxic relationships, Turner is now happily engaged, and his music reflects a maturity and contentment in life that he simply didn’t have before. Songs like Little Changeshave been described as vapid because of their catchy, pop-like chorus, but in reality, they tackle important issues like his experience of CBT and relationships, but with an undying layer of emotional stability that his music didn’t have before. 

Ultimately, Frank Turner owes us nothing. Even so, he continues to draw tattoos for those who ask, supports charities like Safe Gigs for Women, and tour constantly – he recently played his 2265thgig. Frank hasn’t stopped being devoted to honest music, but he has grown personally and musically, and in over a decade of releasing music, this has caused some significant changes. So ultimately, what a musician creates is their own choice. It is possible to remain devoted to making honest and poignant music without remaining static in your sound – and after all, if you don’t like it, no-one’s making you listen. 

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