by Chris Estey
The Gaslight Anthem are coming to the Showbox at the Market on Sept. 23, but I am going to the show to check out their tour opener, a new discovery for me, British singer-songwriter Frank Turner. His recently released album, Poetry of the Deed, combines a bracing mix of grizzled yet positivist lyrics sweetly, beerily crooned over acoustic rock that doesn’t arrive at punk but at least aims to. I have the feeling his opening that night might keep the cult-adored Anthem fans from shouting for their heroes, to stop and listen to something they weren’t planning on.
The Austin Chronicle has compared Turner to “Billy Bragg by way of Joe Strummer” but Bragg’s work has either been too raw or more assuredly soulful than this, and while the energy of The Clash is sort of here, what Turner really reminds me of is underrated anthemic rock band The Alarm. The opening track, “Live Fast Die Old,” sounds eerily similar to something like “The Stand,” clear-eyed rousers based on wage slavery and the anxiety of a world always on the brink of ending. Especially with Biblical imagery like “I bought myself back from the devil, now I’m keeping it all for myself / I’m taking myself out of the program because no one is blessing my health.”
Just as the personal fanzine-observations in “Try This At Home” reminds me more of Bright Eyes than Bob Dylan (“We sing songs about our friends in E minor” and “the only thing that punk rock really only means is not sitting waiting for the lights to turn green”), yet I don’t think influence from the more obscure or contemporary punk-inspired artists is necessarily a bad thing. Self-deprecation and a longing to drink beer in the grass of a park with also-aging pals will always score a winning stance. And though the wide-screen, blowsy, grinding blues rock of the title track risks overstatement, the Beatles-blended-post-emo mid-tempo knell of “Isabel” rewards frequent listening.
Maybe that’s why my favorite work is mostly at the beginning of the generous fourteen tracks of Turner’s third full-length, his first for Epitaph. Like many excited-about-poetry troubadours before him (“we’ll burn like a beacon, and then we’ll be gone”), his roots are in hardcore, the UK punk band Million Dead (R.I.P. 2005). Does he want the world now that Mr. Gurewitz has signed him? “Fuck yes!”
I question whether that will happen if he keeps waiting for “the rain to make him clean.” I bet he journals, and I think there’s some more detailed stuff in his diary about actual relationships that would hit harder than an image like that. I just hope, as much as Turner is concerned with the things that “damn us into hell,” he’ll work up a little more of the small, smooth redemptions which need less chorus roar and inspire hugs and kisses — which I suspect he’ll probably get next Wednesday night from Seattle-area fans.
Frank Turner – “The Road”