From his early days fronting the post-hardcore band Million Dead to his years as an acoustic guitar-slinging troubadour, Frank Turner has never shied away from using his songs to address current events. His focus may have shifted to introspective matters of the heart with his last few albums, but with Be More Kind, Frank Turner not only returns to social commentary but he debuts a decidedly new sound. His music has steadily evolved over the years, culminating in 2015’s Positive Songs for Negative People, which highlighted him and his backing band, the Sleeping Souls, at their loud and brash best. But as he’s demonstrated throughout his career, Turner is no stranger to transformation, and he once again strikes out on an uncharted path that showcases the natural maturity of an artist who still has something to say.
People familiar with Turner’s music might be surprised at the softness of this album, especially in light of it being born from these tumultuous times. While his frustration with the state of the world is obvious, Turner appears to be in a happier state of mind than he had been when creating his other more recent albums, even including a rare love song, “There She Is.” His exhortations are gentle as he implores listeners to strive for understanding and tolerance. He speaks in generalizations, choosing to make broad, widely applied statements, which serves to guarantee the album’s timelessness; its message can be applied to more than just what one sees on the news in this day and age. The only exception to this, as one can imagine, is “Make America Great Again,” which is the Englishman’s reminder to the citizens of that country of the things, like compassion and acceptance, that truly make it great. But though the album is full of hopeful encouragement, Turner really shines when he embraces his anger. The blistering, bass-driven “1933,” which sees Turner snarling over the fact that history has begun to repeat itself, is the album’s standout track and sounds the most like a Frank Turner song of old than anything else on the collection.
Politics aside, the most divisive part of the album is the new sound. While Turner’s particular brand of rock and roll has changed since his debut as a solo singer-songwriter in 2007, he rarely makes sonic leaps as drastic as this. The influences are myriad and wide-ranging – the gospel choir on “Brave Face” mingles with the achingly pretty orchestral arrangements of the title track; the bouncy handclaps of “Little Changes” stands alongside the electronic dance pop of the first single “Blackout.” He doesn’t turn his back on his folk roots though, with the gentle guitar plucking on tracks like “Don’t Worry” and “Going Nowhere.” The combination proves to be both unexpected and refreshing.
Turner’s music and message have always been about inclusion and acceptance, but he takes that one step further with Be More Kind, imploring listeners to take a step back, breathe, and remember that all humans are deserving of love and understanding. It’s a message that, in this age of vitriol and fear, will, with any luck, resonate far and wide.