English singer-songwriter Frank Turner has long been a stalwart of the UK music scene, from his days in post-hardcore band Million Dead to his solo career which has seen him sell out huge venues and headline festivals around the country. Over the years, Turner has dabbled in various genres but has usually fallen somewhere under the umbrella of folk-punk. Now, however, he seems to have made a conscious effort to move out of his (and perhaps also his fans’) musical comfort zone with his seventh studio album Be More Kind.
After two relatively personal albums (2013’s Tape Deck Heart and 2015’s Positive Songs for Negative People), this time Frank addresses more global issues. The title Be More Kind sums up the album’s message, encouraging empathy and compassion in a world that’s more divided than ever. In an apparent effort to get this message out to as wide an audience as possible, Frank has written some of his most catchy, radio-friendly songs yet. The infectious, poppy ‘Little Changes’ and anthemic ‘Blackout’ wouldn’t sound out of place on a mainstream radio station or in a club, something which couldn’t be said for much of Turner’s back catalogue.
Musically, Be More Kind represents a stylistic shift from Frank’s previous albums, incorporating electronic elements for the first time. For example ‘There She Is’, a synth-filled ballad, channels 80s Bruce Springsteen while the provocatively titled ‘Make America Great Again’ features a huge synth-backed chorus to really hammer home the message of inclusion: “Let’s make America great again, by making racists ashamed again.” Frank also uses lush string sections to elevate tracks like ‘The Lifeboat’ and ‘Be More Kind’ from simple acoustic tracks into some of the most gorgeous and moving songs of his career.
There are some more traditional, guitar-driven cuts however, such as ’21st Century Survival Blues’, a dark and foreboding song about preparing for the apocalypse. The fiery ‘1933’ sees Frank in full-on angry political mode. The lyrics, comparing recent global events to those in Nazi Germany in 1933, are some of Frank’s most biting social commentary in years. It would be nice to hear more from this fierce, outspoken side of Turner however this takes a back seat for most of the album in favour of a calmer, more reassuring style.
Despite the darker moments, the overall atmosphere of the album is one of hope and optimism in the face of adversity. From uplifting opening track ‘Don’t Worry’ to stripped-down, singalong closer ‘Get It Right’, each song delivers a positive, albeit sometimes simplistic, message. The new musical direction may throw off long-time fans, but at it’s heart, Be More Kind is perhaps the most beautiful Frank Turner album to date, featuring some of his finest songwriting yet.