Frank Turner – ‘Undefeated’

By Katherine Allvey

“Some people are just going to hate you, no matter what you do,” laments folk punk troubadour Frank Turner, “so don’t waste time trying to change their minds; just be a better you.” This first line to the first song of ‘Undefeated’ summarises the tone of Turner’s tenth outing perfectly as it walks the line between reassuringly comforting and resolutely defiant. The ringleader of the Sleeping Souls usually excels when he’s got an overarching theme for his records (such as 2011’s exploration of identity on ‘England Keep My Bones’ or the extended therapy session that was ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’) but instead he’s gifted us a mosaic of what’s been on his mind for the last two years. If you’re already a Frank fan, you’ll get a kick out another parcel of his thoughts. However, if somehow ‘Undefeated’ is the first time you’ve heard of Turner, this may not be the album which gets you hooked. 

Turner recently took the decision to walk away from the major leagues and return to his roots, releasing ‘Undefeated’ via “a global independent label setup”. Evidently, turning forty and then some between albums has prompted even more introspection from the frontman than usual, if that’s possible, and this doesn’t just come out in his choices over publishing. While Turner’s never been shy about dredging up his own past in all it’s hungover glory, his approach on ‘Undefeated’ is the same as he took right at the start of his career on tracks like ‘The Real Damage’, namely picking a metaphor that seems banal on the surface before unwinding it to expose a painful memory to the harsh light of day. Closed security barriers at ‘East Finchley’ tube station represent a separation from youthful visions of how life would turn out via wistful folkish spiralling choruses, and unopened ‘Letters’ are a rushing reminder of love lost. ‘Ceasefire’, as a counterpart to ‘Father’s Day’ but from the perspective of an older man, is probably the most innovative of these reflections, a chiming acknowledgement of age and connection across time using, of course, a beast of a central metaphor for Turner to wrestle into submission. 

Fortunately, an acknowledgement of where he came from also equates to joyfully racing punk tracks. Early single ‘Girl From the Record Shop’ is a simplistic delight with lyrical swerves aplenty, and don’t pretend you won’t be jumping along to the chorus of ‘Do One’ this summer when Turner makes one of his inevitable hundred appearances in fields across Europe. There’s a huge potential for glee in its chirping lines that’s just waiting to be grasped. The Pogues-influenced, humorous monologue ‘Never Mind The Back Problems’ will bring a smile to fans of a certain age with its anarchic take on genre hopping, but ‘No Thank You For The Music’ comes across as a tad dated. Snarking on the hipster style cartels feels rather Nathan Barley; it’s been years since we’ve been concerned with posers taking the place of ‘real musicians’, and that battle’s already been played out. Turner’s targets, along with the nefarious and shadowy music industry on ‘Show People’, feel anachronistic when he picks a specific group to snark on, especially since at this moment in time no one cares if you also went to the Cambridge Folk Festival one day and hit the pit the next. That said, this album only serves as evidence that Turner must be one of the most dangerous people in the UK to engage in casual conversation. One joke that lands wrong, or a single use of an appealing figure of speech, and you’ll find yourself immortalised in song.

Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of ‘Undefeated’ is its pervasive sense of hope; ‘International Hide And Seek Champions’ is sunshine distilled into a three minute escape plan, and the way ‘Pandemic PTSD’ transforms the growing realisation that we as a society went through profound psychiatric trauma for two years into catchy pop is gorgeously cynical. However, though the albums musical steps out of the darkness and into the light of optimism feel deliberate and natural, it also carries a quiet sense of loss.

Turner is magnificent when he’s spitting fire and fury out into a crowd, and it’s unlikely this side of his sound will be unleashed on record until there’s a new populist front in politics or the UK runs out of tattoo ink. This is to be expected; Turner  has acquired more health and stability in his personal life and isn’t the same person who ‘Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’. If ‘Undefeated’ shows nothing else, it’s that after ten albums, the “skinny half-arsed English Country singer” has not let his well run dry, adapting and moving with his own mercurial circumstances to refine his sound.

KATE ALLVEY

Three more album reviews for you

One Step Closer - 'All You Embrace'

El Moono - 'The Waking Sun'

​​Knocked Loose - 'You Won't Go Before You're Supposed To'