It ain’t easy getting older for punks. Punk rock is a culture that propels itself and evolves, in part, due to the youthful exuberance of its followers. Mosh pits and pogo dancing get hard once you hit 30, and slowly you become the weird old guy standing in the back of the club with a bottle of Miller Lite whom you used to eye warily at 16. Activist sensibilities are traded for familial obligations; protests get pushed aside for pensions. One day you’re punk as fuck with your leather jacket and anarchy patches, the next you find yourself going to bed at 11pm so you can be well rested for work the next morning. The crisis of aging, somehow, feels more present and intense for the punk, and nothing is more surprising than that first time you willfully turn down the music because your ears simply can’t take it that moment.
One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed myself, as an aging punk, is the tendency to gravitate towards folkier music as the years wax onward. Buzzsaw attacks are still well and good, but you find yourself wanting more. Snarky criticism sang over three chords can only take you so far—sometimes you need thoughtful introspection sang over acoustics.
Frank Turner is the reigning master of tapping these sensibilities, though I’m sure he’d probably disagree with that assessment. He’s an artist whose humility outshines his talent, remaining humble in the face of success. Be that as it may, there’s a reason for Frank Turner’s existence. Album after album, he’s tapped the ennui of growing old amidst a scene that exists for the young, allowing aging punks an outlet for their tastes both new and old. It’s punk as fuck and it’s country as hell—punktry, if you will. And while he owes a debt of gratitude to those who came before him, he’s honed this ideal to the finest of points to become an artist who stands out musically.
His latest record, Positive Songs for Negative People, finds Turner standing tall on the summit of his abilities. It’s the purest distillation of his sound and aesthetic, showcasing everything that makes Frank Turner Frank Turner. Heartfelt, introspective, and often poetic, it’s the finest album to date from this aging punk rock troubadour, delivering 12 tracks of no holds barred punk-infused country that spits in the face of aging out.
“By the waters of the Thames, I resolve to start again,” sings Turner in the opening lines of the opening track, “The Angel of Islington.” This seems to signal a renewed sense of purpose and direction for Turner. It’s a meditation on changing times and ideals, a reflection of both himself and his audience, which is telegraphed once more in the chorus of the track immediately following, “Get Better.” “I’m trying to get better because I haven’t been my best,” he sings in his best punk snarl.
The juxtaposition of these two tracks—the soft, acoustics of “Islington” and the rollicking punk of “Better”—sets a tone. There’s a sense of controlled chaos that permeates the record, which can move from low-key acoustics to rising punk rock crescendos with little notice, walking the line between his dueling sensibilities as only he can do. It’s a bridge between youth and adulthood, maintaining a foothold in the wilds of the young while planting roots firmly in maturity. The folksy rhythms of “The Opening act of Spring” gives way to the punk-tinged explosiveness of “Glorious You.” “Silent Key” moves from wild intensity to subdued harmony and back again. Throughout it all, he handles himself beautifully, wearing who he is clearly for all to see with his head held high.
Recorded mostly live in studio, Positive Songs for Negative People captures the intensity of Turner’s touring performances in ways his previous five records have not. Both Turner and his backing band, The Sleeping Souls, have a large, uncontainable sound that often came across as mildly stunted in their previous output. Here, their style is showcased in all its largess, offering the finest example of everything that makes Frank Turner great.