Frank Turner - No Man's Land (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Frank Turner

No Man's Land (2019)


I've always been a Frank Turner fan and he's another artist I find it hard to believe cops so much criticism. Not sure if folks think it's him selling out or what, but for me it's hard to hate on his simple, sweet brand of music. I recently got back into Positive Songs for Negative People and Be More Kind before spending time with No Man's Land, and again, while some songs do come off by-the-numbers, I just can't see where he deserves the flak a lot of people have thrown at him. That said, I was skeptical of the latter because early reviews (and this is the rare occasion I did dive into them before the record -- and it's something I don't advise moving forward) cited it as him mansplaining things about key women in history, or women he sees as intriguing public figures. That honestly couldn't be further from the truth and while I do think the record needed a stronger female presence on some tracks -- mixed vocals or with Frank in the background and whatnot -- it's hard to deny this isn't a moving collection of songs.

Most of all, I'm enjoying how Frank's going back to his folk roots here as opposed to the indie-pop niche he was cutting recently. It wasn't a bad direction but this raw, vulnerable and exposed Frank, crafting music off an authentic spine of historical figures, really feels like his best self. From songs like "A Perfect Wife" which has that Vampire Weekend acoustic spine as it waxes on about the serial killer Nannie Doss to the jazz/bebop tribute on "Nica" to Pannonica de Koenigswarter, I thoroughly enjoyed his perspective on what these women mean to his art. And it's all about influence, and not Frank going on about politics. I mean, you do get a bit of that on "The Lioness" which has a faster, shimmery, alt-rock vibe to bring the story of Egyptian feminist Huda Sha'arawi to life, but overall, it's just Frank worshipping from a storytelling POV.

What I like most is Frank doesn't force the narrative or an overly catchy, melodic story here as well, with "Rescue Annie" (detailing the history of a drowning victim and a CPR doll) feeling like an impromptu Oasis B-Side and "Rosemary Jane" -- a song about his mom -- running off like a grainy demo in a bar, which someone like me who lost their granny earlier this year can truly appreciate. Overall, this collection is emotional, sentimental and straight from the heart, which is what Frank usually does. Admittedly, he plays to his strengths here more than in recent memory but again, some songs do just taper off like the reworked "Silent Key". Nonetheless, if you're a Frank fan, you'll enjoy, and if you're a cynic, well you might just find that there's not as much to hate here as you thought there'd be.