Dillon Eastoe
11:28 9th February 2022

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One of the most telling absences of the past two years has been that of sprawling tour posters detailing Frank Turner’s latest mammoth jaunt across Europe or the States. For an artist who built his brand on punishing schedules and non-stop shows, the derailment of normal service must have been particularly disorientating.

FTHC (or ‘Frank Turner Hardcore’) is the sound of the man thirsting for the thrill of live performance; a gnarly, punked up set-list that’s built for full-band shows, singalongs and circle pits. Opener ‘Non Serviam’ kicks in with a dirty distorted riff and doesn’t let up with jackhammer guitars and barked vocals. ‘The Gathering’ is an explosion of energy for an all-or-nothing live return which unfortunately hasn’t panned out yet for Turner, who’s only managed acoustic gigs recently and had to pull the run of UK shows that should have heralded the new record. Remote recording the track last year means that Turner can enlist some A-list help; Muse’s Dom Howard pounds the drums while Jason Isbell shreds out a searing guitar solo.

Turner’s love for hardcore dates his time fronting Million Dead in the early 2000s, and where this meets his folk songwriting makes for a cocktail familiar to fans of old tourmates The Gaslight Anthem, Pennsylvania band The Menzingers and in places Billie Joe Armstrong’s Green Day percussive guitar thwack.

Reflections on Turner’s upbringing form a suite of songs, with ‘Fatherless’ and ‘My Bad’ detailing being packed off to boarding school by an unfeeling father, the emotional toll it took on him and how the social conditioning he experienced at Eton manifests in the psychopaths who make up the government. The bitterness and resentment of that section gives way to the uplifting ‘Miranda’, where Turner reconnects with the parent he’d effectively written off, now living as a trans woman and reconnecting with Frank. Given how this particular relationship has periodically emerged in Turner’s catalogue over the years, the lyric that finds them dancing on stage together is a neat piece of closure.

Turner’s occasionally blunt politics have gotten him in hot water in the past but focussing on personal experiences proves less clumsy here, showing that Frank continues to be reflexive in his process. The album's centrepiece, and one of the less “punky” pieces, is Turner’s tribute to his late friend Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit. Inspired by a lucid dream, Turner channels a drop tuned guitar part that nods to Hutchison’s own style. Lyrically Turner imagines Hutchison’s final moments and searches for peace with an expansive arrangement. When he reaches into that space between the real and the abstract (see 2015’s ‘Silent Key’ and the recent No Man’s Land album), Turner can transcend some of the boundaries his increasingly autobiographical writing has created.

Elsewhere there’s reverence for his own repertoire. ‘The Resurrectionists’ catches up with the cast of ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Was Famous’ fourteen years later, with buddy Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro joining in to holler the final chorus, on a track that will delight diehards.

At fourteen tracks, not everything is essential listening. ‘Punches’ and ‘The Work’ in particular might have been left in the vaults of Frank’s new home studio, the latter proving cloying and lightweight. Settling down and moving out to the country is of course an important part of the journey on ‘FTHC’ but it's also the least engaging.

Frank Turner’s finest writing remains on 2011 opus ‘England Keep My Bones’ and his commercial peak playing to arenas may recede into the rear view mirror, but he was always the first to recognise the transience of those moments. After the wonky experimentation of ‘Be More Kind’, FTHC is the kind of belligerent album Turner needed to make as he strives to get back out on his never-ending tour.

FTHC arrives 11 February via Polydor.

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