- 05 Sep 19
Underwhelming effort from indie-folk merchant
A prolific singer-songwriter and lover of history, Frank Turner combines both of his passions on his eighth studio LP, No Man’s Land. Produced on this occasion by Catherine Marks, and backed by all-female musicians, Turner introduces us to the stories of women he feels have been excluded from history.
He has curated a diverse collection, celebrating ladies of both ill-repute and high regard, including pioneering gospel singer and guitarist, Sister Rosetta Tharpe; Dodge City dancehall entertainer, Dora Hand; and Catherine Blake, wife of poet William, among other interesting figures.
There are some particularly interesting cuts. The eccentrically beautiful ‘The Perfect Wife’, a tender and tuneful rumination on a most unlikely subject – mid-20th century serial killer, Nannie Doss – is one. Turner further hits all the right emotional cues on the less grisly – and perhaps more deeply touching – ‘Silent Key’. Here, he sings of tragic astronaut Christa McAuliffe, who perished in the NASA Challenger disaster of 1986.
Overall, however, the musical tone is less diverse than the stories. Whether as a result or not, the concept of the album, as noble as it might have seemed to Turner when he conceived it, feels somewhat contrived. It is hard to elude the sense that it might have been designed to fit within the current cultural climate, where commercial properties are routinely aligned to popular social justice causes. It would be harsh to make any judgement in that vein, but to me it seems that there is a genuine lack of edge. Marks – erstwhile producer of Wolf Alice, The Killers and Foals – must shoulder some of the blame. Had she and Turner crafted a richer, more dynamic sonic palette to marry with the well-intentioned themes, perhaps No Man’s Land could have been a truly compelling listen. As it is, musically the record is not potent enough to sustain the weighty theme.
5/10. Out now.