Late June this year, Frank Turner announced his new album (No Man’s Land) – a collection of songs about the forgotten and overlooked women of history who have inspired him and his music. This conjured a sense of doubt in me as it seemed to be a very obvious attempt at a male singer-songwriter playing the hero and trying to reset the historical scales of gender imbalance alone.
The singles that were released before the album dropped were, on their own, nothing out of the ordinary. The last of the singles to be released: The Hymn of Kassiani, was very much the cherry on top of a disappointing cake and left me completely disenfranchised with the album as a whole. This was until Friday morning, when Spotify threw the album in my face. As I have been a rather big fan of Frank Turner for the best part of 8 years now, I gave the full album a try, and couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised.
The album as a complete work feels far more like a labour of love than a political statement about gender inequality, giving him an opportunity to marry his love of history with the figures that influenced him. From a purely musical perspective, Turner draws from his various stylings during his solo career, from raw songs that seem very personal to him to full band bangers such as Sister Rosetta. The product of this amalgamation of styles and narratives is an album full of short stories about captivating characters where each song has an individual quality to it both in tone and in tale.
As you listen through this album, the early worries about Turner playing a White-Knight subside almost immediately. The first song alone is about Camden’s legendary Jinny Bingham, the owner of a halfway house who was accused of being a witch after murdering several of her patrons who assaulted her. Not really the first person one would choose if you were purely out with the intention of playing the role of the saviour of womenkind. This being said, Turner does go on to sing about the lives of historical feminists whose stories have not been popularised or well-remembered. By singing from their perspective Turner runs the risk of coming across as mansplaining these powerful people’s lives, but when listening to the album it is plain to see that Turner is simply using the medium he knows best to communicate how inspirational their actions were.
A personal highlight from this album is the song “Rosemary Jane”, a song for his mother giving thanks to her for the difficult task she had of raising him and his sisters in spite of a father who was less than helpful. It feels like the follow on to a song he released as part of “Sleep is for the Week” in 2007: “Father’s Day”. “Father’s day” was a look in to the strained relationship with his father, which had a rather melancholy feel to it and little mention of the rest of his family life. “Rosemary Jane”, however, acts as the counterbalance to his earlier song casting a more positive light on to his home life whilst thanking his mother for it throughout. Turner has always been very open about the relationships he holds with both of his parents, often showcasing his mother during his live shows and getting her to play the odd harmonica solo.
This album has proved to be an interesting journey away from Turner’s expected array of songs about his personal life and emotions, whilst maintaining the styles he has developed during his solo career. The result of this is a collection songs that you can find yourself lost in listening to for hours on end, enjoying the journey through time and musical styles he takes you on.