Sunday, June 24, 2018

Album Review: 'Be More Kind' by Frank Turner

Title:  Be More Kind (Official, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, Wikipedia)
Artist:  Frank Turner (Official, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Spotify, Wikipedia)

I've had a really hard time trying to figure out how to put into words my feelings about Frank Turner's seventh studio album Be More Kind.  Words like excellent and mesmerizing and important just don't do it justice (though all are true).  I have been devouring Be More Kind since its release over a month ago and right from the first listen I knew that I was listening to something that not only spoke to me, but could truly make a difference in people's lives.

The album opens with the gentle "Don't Worry" a song that perfectly sets the thematic tone for the record, conveying a sense of togetherness, community, and hope:
Don't worry if you don't know what to do
I don't know what I'm doing
No-one has a clue
But you'll figure it out
And I might too
Throughout the record there are songs that touch on the insanity of the current political environment ("1933"), relationships and devotion ("Going Nowhere"), love ("There She Is"), and perseverance ("Brave Face").  On top of those is an overarching theme that is found throughout the entire record, and that theme is kindness.  The title track "Be More Kind" is the centerpiece of the album and was inspired by a Clive James poem that included the line "I should have been more kind. It is my fate. To find this out, but find it out too late."  The song is poignant and powerful ballad that should become a mantra to all who hear it --
In a world that has decided
That it's going to lose its mind
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind
"Little Changes" began as a love song but grew into an anthem for the best way to truly change the world --
Giving up too easy when we could've tried a little bit harder
Standing to the side as the neighbourhood went to the dogs
We spend our energy getting angry instead of being kinder
Singing hymns of praise in a city given up on by the gods
[...]
'Cause I've been messing things up
And I've been letting you down
I've been getting it wrong for far too long
I've been lost more than found
And I don't know where to stop
But something's gotta break
Don't pull out the part, keep it close to your heart
I'll do whatever it takes
So far from okay, tongue-tied and afraid
The big things stay the same, let us make
Little changes
Little changes
Come on let's make some little changes
It's time to make some little changes
Let's not just pray
Let's make a change
Let's not just pray
Let's make a change
Come on let's make some little changes
It's time to make some little changes
This song is one that really hit me because it is so unbelievably true.  In order to make the world a better place, we have to make a change.  Us.  Individuals.  We have to make conscious decisions to treat each other better, to be better people, to take better care of ourselves, our friends, our families, and our planet.  Two comparisons instantly came to mind when I heard "Little Changes."  First was Michael Jackson's "Man In The Mirror."  Now I know that Michael Jackson and Frank Turner are about as far removed from one another as possible in music but the sentiment of this song, and especially its video, go hand in hand with that of "Little Changes" as exemplified in the closing of the chorus "If you want to make the world a better place, Take a look at yourself, and then make a change."  The other comparison that came to mind was Ben Lee, specifically the song "We're All In This Together."  Lee is an indie pop artist that started playing music as a teenager in the '90s in the grunge/punk band Noise Addict.  In the mid to late '00s he released a string of brilliant records the perfectly mixed elements of folk, pop, and indie rock.  "Little Changes" is the first taste of a poppier new direction taken by Turner (a direction even more fleshed out in "Blackout").  Turner has always had a flair for pop hooks and melodies but they were grounded in his punk and troubadour roots.  On Be More Kind, he's taken a risk and broadened his musical horizons and has done so successfully.  "Little Changes" aside from its lyrical content is a fabulous pop song that shows tremendous growth in songwriting and expression.

The album's closing stretch of "Common Ground," "The Lifeboat," and "Get It Right" is one of the greatest closing stretches I have ever heard.  First Turner put together the greatest album opening on England Keep My Bones with "Eulogy," "Peggy Sang the Blues," and "I Still Believe" and now he's perfected the closing of a record.  Each song feeds into the next, providing a road map to a better world.  "Common Ground" is a call to all of us, that we have must focus on what we share and not our differences --
If all we are is dust to dust
Then in the end what’s left of us
Are the traces of the way we treat the ones we meet
And the ones who trouble us
The greatest test of us
Seems to me to be the way we disagree
If we are to find a way to live
Then we need to build ourselves a bridge
And if we were to build ourselves that bridge
We could meet in the middle and forgive
Let’s meet on the bridge and forgive
"The Lifeboat" is the warning, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come that we must find and hold on to hope and kindness and decency --
There are stories now worth being told
There are victories to grasp more valuable than gold
And we will speak of to our children when we're old
There are battles now, words being formed
There are lessons to be learned and later to be taught
There are soldiers on the field who can't be bought
There's a clarity now in our view
From the prow we see far, all that's is old now is new
Free at last, we know what we must do
There is hope now in the wind
And the millions who are marching demanding we be kind
From the new lands the lifeboats might find
Save what you can
Behind us the old world in flames
Lower the lifeboats, take the tiller
Steer the way
Save what you can
Lower the lifeboats, steer the way
Find shore aground, oh the horizon through the waves
Steer a clear course to a new world, to a new day
Save what you can
Lower the lifeboats, steer the way 
Finally the record comes to a close with the heartbreakingly hopeful "Get It Right."  A stark, simple, and beautiful ballad that looks to the potential future humanity is capable of, if we today learned the simple lessons of "I don't know" and "I change my mind" --
Last night I had a vision
Of people asking questions
Instead of talking without listening
And admitting that the news was new
Sweet Lord I’ve had some visions
Of people having conversations
Instead of staring at their tiny screens
And pretending that they knew what to do

Take a breath
Try these for size
I don’t know
I change my mind
Between life and death
We’ll find the time
To get it right

Last night I had a vision
Of people being congratulated
Instead of ridiculed and hated
For admitting that they made mistakes
I’m sick and tired
Of having visions
That keep coming to me nightly
That shouldn’t be so very unlikely
If everybody’s ready for some changes to make

Take a breath
Try these for size
I don’t know
I change my mind
Between life and death
We’ll find the time
To get it right
When I saw Frank Turner in Dallas earlier this month, he talked a lot about the idea of kindness and friendship and taking care of each other.  At the beginning of the show he stated that there were two rules for the evening: 1) don't be a dickhead and 2) if you know the words, you have to sing along.  Expanding on the first rule, he said that we needed to lookout for each other and make sure that our fun wasn't getting in the way or hampering anyone else's fun.  Towards the end of the night he came back to this theme, once when talking about "Get It Right" and how much the world would be better if instead of firing off angry comments or posts online, we took a step back and used the phrases "I don't know" and "I changed my mind."  We don't always have to have all of the answers and we can change our opinions as we get new information and these are both good and healthy things.  As the show came to a close, he asked that we put our arms around the people next to us and then to try and take this feeling of friendship out into the world.  It was truly an inspiring night and Be More Kind is and incredibly inspiring record.  And I didn't even touch on all of it.      

Music is a transcendent medium, possibly the most transcendent medium, giving it a power to touch a person's heart and move his or her soul.  Songs have the ability to give meaning, provide hope, give voice to anger, and provide solace.  Music has the power to be an inspiration, to fuel a passion, or to save a soul.  Be More Kind does all of these things and much, much more.  In a world that is fractured and hurting, Be More Kind is the uplifting hope and inspiration that the world needs.  Thank you Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls for giving us that beacon that will guide us to safer and better shores.  We...hell I truly needed this record, this music, and this message.  Maybe there is hope for us after all.






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