Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"I Still Believe" / Frank Turner

Thanks to Margot for the recommend. Because that's how we do it, old school -- face to face, hand to hand --- I heard this guy and I think you'd like it -- and we value those hand-offs above all.

My first-time listen to Frank Turner's 2011 album England Keep My Bones, I knew this track was the one to blog about. Because really, isn't that what we're about in this neck of the woods? The transformative power of a rock and roll song?

Frank Turner is English -- check. A folk/punk singer/songwriter -- check. I know that sounds like another iteration of the divine Robyn  Hitchcock, but Turner is a lot more earnest and feisty. He may have gone to Eton with Prince William (congrats to the royal dad) but he's a lot  more like Billy Bragg, and Margot, I hope you're taking notes, because I'd really love to turn you on to Billy Bragg and there's only so many hours in a day.

England Keep My Bones is a deeply English album, with place names and turns of phrase that might baffle some American listeners. (But hey, I'm a Kinks fan -- the Englisher the better.) An essential part of that Englishness is the old-school folk sound on several tracks, which is apparently a departure for Turner, who started out in a post-hardcore band called Million Dead. So there was some strategic value in this lead-off single, "I Still Believe," which reassured Turner fans that he has not turned his back on rocking out. Quite the contrary. As he exuberantly declaims in the refrain, "Now who'd have thought that after all, that something as simple as rock and roll could save us all?"

What more do we need?

Screw the ironic po-mo -- Turner's not afraid to forge a bond with his listeners, not afraid to tell you straight out where he stands. He's practically grabbing you by the lapels, addressing bystanders from his soapbox: "Friends, Romans, and countrymen!" (I like a man who's not afraid of a Shakespearean reference.) He's the town crier, over and over again calling out "Hear ye, hear ye!" "Come ye, come ye!"

Yet it's hard to believe this guy comes from the loud, fast, bass-heavy world of hardcore; dig the playful skipping tempo, and the yearning quality of his chord changes. 

He name-checks  all the usual suspects -- Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny (Cash? Ray?), and "all the saints"  -- but he's no Don McLean; he insists that "anybody could take the stage."  (I particularly enjoy verse two's list of the various places a working musician fetches up -- "soulless corporate circus tops . . . the toilet circuit . . bars and bunker squats . . . ") It's the base elements -- "Guitars and drums and desperate poetry" -- that really matter.

And why does it matter?  Because rock and roll "has the power to raise a temple and tear it down." There's a 60s flashback for you, and it's invigorating to hear it.

I saw FT on one of the latenight talk shows -- oh please don't ask me which one -- and I loved his raw energy, his conviction. And yet he's dialing it back to another era, to the time when rock and roll was still controversial and fresh and new. What's not to love about that?


Alex said...

Love this.

That is all.

NickS said...

Reading your description I thought of, "Six Nights A Week" and listening to it, they are approximately opposite sides of the same coin.

Holly A Hughes said...

Interesting. I'd never heard that Dave Alvin song before. For a minute I thought you meant the Beatles' "Eight Days a Week," which for some reason this Frank Turner song reminds me of. Tempo and melody similarities, maybe.

NickS said...

I thought you might recognize it, because there's a version of it (sung by Peter Case) on my Country Songwriters mix (off this tribute album).

You can see why I thought of that song, it's also about the, "anybody [who] could take the stage." But sung from the perspective of trudging home at the end of the night, rather than getting pumped up to hit the stage.

NickS said...

Completely different mood, but thinking about invocations of, "the transformative power of a rock and roll song" I stumbled across Mojo Nixon Explains Rock and Roll. I think it captures his charm (there's a weird audio glitch in the middle, but it only lasts a couple seconds).