Everyone’s favourite Etonian punk poet Frank Turner is back in familiar territory on album number 8, musically anyway. Turner has stated that he does not want to repeat himself with each album and ‘No Man’s Land’ sees the troubadour approach writing an album from a different angle. ‘No Man’s Land’ is a concept album based on the tales of forgotten women in history. From a 17th century Camden landlady who poisoned and cooked her lovers, to a Dutch courtesan, executed by firing squad, onto the tale of an Egyptian feminist, history buff Turner has done his homework .
A series of podcasts entitled ‘Tales From No Man’s Land’ accompany each song, and the themes of strong women stretch further than just the lyrical content. Gone (for now) is his band The Sleeping Souls, replaced by a full female backing band and producer to boot.
Frank’s canny lyricism and his knack of telling a fine tale does have a tendency to draw you in, and you can’t help but immerse yourself in the lives of these women. Some you will have heard of, some you won’t have a clue about, but after a few listens you will find yourself reaching for Wikipedia to find out a bit more. While over the course of a 3 and a half minute song the songwriter can only say so much, the point is made, and it’s up to the listener to find out more. Sometimes it works a treat and other times… not so much.
Opener ‘Jinny Bingham’s Ghost’ is a mighty fine, upbeat drinking song. Fiddles and skiffle beats fill the air like The Urban Voodoo Machine partying with The Pogues, as Frank reels off the first of many tall tales. Interestingly, the story is set in Camden Town, at The Underworld, on the spot where Jinny Bingham ran the tavern where she committed her dirty deeds.
The following ‘Sister Rosetta’ is typical Turner radio fodder. A pop-laced, perfect single about the godmother of rock ‘n’ roll, who I first learned about through the teachings of Alabama 3. A nifty accompanying guitar riff and a crisp production job courtesy of Catherine Marks makes this song sparkle and shine.
The jazzy ‘Nica’ is a complete contrast from anything else and works really well. Full of brass, woodwind and smoky juke joint vibes, it mirrors the subject matter perfectly. Elsewhere, the album falters in just a few places. ‘Silent Key’, about tragic Challenger Space Shuttle astronaut Christa McAuliffe, is a song that first featured on the album ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’. It’s a bit of a (space) oddity to be honest. Frank just seems to be going through the motions here with a lazy vocal melody that doesn’t really go anywhere. And closing track ‘Rosemary Jane’, a song about his mum, while heartfelt and personal to Frank, is just plain dull.
But there certainly are flashes of brilliance to behold. The stripped back country of ‘Eye Of The Day’ closes side one ‘Nebraska’ style, just the man and his acoustic laid bare, recounting the tragic tale of Mata Hari and her untimely death. Simple, heartfelt and probably my favourite track right now.
Soaring choruses in the likes of ‘I Believed You, William Blake’, written through the eyes of his long suffering wife Catherine, and the epic feel of side 2 opener ‘The Death Of Dora Hand’ stay with me long after my white vinyl album has stopped spinning and I turn my attention to find more about these remarkable women.
‘No Man’s Land’ is a perfectly executed album, to be listened to from start to finish as a body of work. The podcasts are interesting, though not essential to enjoy the album to its fullest. Some have labelled the concept of this album as ‘gimmicky’ before even hearing the fruits of his labour, but I say this album is far from it. Is it Frank’s best album? No, but it’s up there with his best and has already had the most plays since ‘England Keep My Bones’ was released for me, so he must be doing something right. A lot of thought has gone into the production, the concept and the lavish packaging and it makes ‘No Man’s Land’ a welcome addition to anyone’s collection. Fascinating stuff indeed.
Buy No Mans Land Here
Author: Ben Hughes