There is nothing new I can say about Frank Turner that I didn’t say when I reviewed his Rock & Roll EP last year. In that review I laid out my thoughts about Turner, heavily praising him for his too-punk-for-punk-music brand of acoustic-ish folk rock. Even though I praised that EP for what it was, I can’t say it really revealed what listeners would be getting with Turner’s next record. England, Keep My Bones is Turner’s fourth full-length, and it is with no doubt or hesitation whatsoever that I gladly report this is his best record. England, Keep My Bones is 12 songs of Turner’s best lyricism, musicianship and energy all compiled into what will go down as his defining effort.
Turner’s lyrics have always been up-front and real, and opener “Eulogy” delivers on an ultra-personal level. It’s basically a short poem that lets him get something off his chest while serving as a disclaimer that England, Keep My Bones is the best he can offer: “Not everyone grows up to be an astronaut / Not everyone was born to be a king / Not everyone can be Freddy Mercury / Everyone can raise a glass and sing / Well I haven’t always been a perfect person / No, I haven’t done what mom and dad had dreamed / But on the day I die I’ll say, “Well at least I fucking tried” / That’s the only eulogy I need.”
Turner fucking tried, indeed, and succeeded with this record. “Peggy Sang The Blues” is a witty homage to his grandmother, showcasing the lighthearted side of Turner’s musicianship, while “Rivers” is a bit darker. Those two songs reveal the spectrum of Turner’s style, but England, Keep My Bones isn’t confined to those two extremes – rather, this is Turner’s most versatile record. Take the defining portion of the album, right smack in the middle, from tracks 5 to 7. “I Am Disappeared,” “English Curse” and “One Foot Before The Other” compile a triple-shot of Turner flexing his poetic muscle and paralleling that strength with the best-arranged music he’s written.
”I Am Disappeared” is a relative rocker in comparison with most of Turner’s catalog, with the song’s catchiness early on complementing meaningful lyricism in the bridge. “English Curse” is perhaps the ballsiest song anyone has heard all year – a two minute, 16 second entirely a cappella track where Turner hides nothing and just tells us a story. The song isn’t just a showcase of Turner’s exceptional vocals, it proves Turner is willing to put things on record that others wouldn’t even consider executing. It perfectly sets up “One Foot Before The Other,” which is the loudest and most rocking track on England, Keep My Bones.
Turner doesn’t disappoint at the end of England, Keep My Bones. “Nights Become Days” and “Redemption” are two slower songs that line things up perfectly for the unbridled joy found in closer and surefire album standout “Glory Hallelujah.” The song is one about godlessness, an unashamed recording of Turner’s beliefs – or lack thereof. Even listeners who engage in churchly things might have fun singing along to the song’s jumpy rhythm…or maybe they’ll just skip that track. Turner probably doesn’t care.
Multiple references to Turner’s homeland of…um…England make this record as much of a personal catharsis for Turner as it is a critical triumph in my eyes. England, Keep My Bones will have a huge lasting value among fans of Turner’s earlier work, but equally as fascinating is the opportunity to be let into the mind of an artist who is essentially an anti-rock star. Although Turner is one of the best songwriters around, he refuses to don any titles of grandeur, something well documented in past songs. Regardless, Turner has become a superstar in the eyes of his own fans, and this record will only strengthen that admiration as England, Keep My Bones is Turner’s most emphatic success and the best singer/songwriter album that will be released in 2011.