Fourteen! Five full-length albums, five studio EPs, and what is now four compilation albums, all within the space of 8 years. The obvious word to bandy around at this point should be “prolific”. At this late juncture however, perhaps we should be regarding Frank Turner’s copious release schedule with a little more suspicion. There’s a fine line between genuine generosity and something altogether more opportunistic, especially considering the fact that Turner is a particularly vocal opponent of capitalist endeavours. As far as the music goes, ‘The Third Three Years’ is largely hit-and-miss and is unlikely to reach any further than those most hardcore of fans.
Funny enough, the compilation album can be almost perfectly divided into two sets of tracks: the hits and misses. In many cases however, the hits deserve to be called so because they are the hits of other, better, artists (by which no disrespect is meant, this writer is generally an admirer of Turner’s work). Queen’s ’Somebody To Love’, Wings’ ’Live And Let Die’, Springsteen’s ’Born To Run’ undergo, among others, the cover treatment. For the most part, the renditions stick close to the tracks’ original form and work fine. His home demo of The Weakerthans’ ’Bigfoot’ somehow manages to be even more stripped down, and the result is the sweetest you’re likely to find Turner.
Unfortunately, none of the original tracks make much of a mark. ’Riot Song’, while deserving of credit for taking a less reactionary stance on the Tottenham events, stinks a whole lot of self-righteousness. It gets worse on the positively annoying ’Something Of Freedom’, a track so willfully unaware of its inherent hypocrisy to be almost baffling. Whenever Turner finds himself accompanied by another artist however, things tend to look up. ’Fields of June’s lovely boy-girl harmonies (cheers Emily Barker) gives its folky skeleton some welcome heart(break), while, considering Turner’s rather flatly textured voice, Jon Snodgrass’ cool tones give unusual holiday song ’Happy New Year’ a warm edge.
Which leaves us with the live versions of tracks from his most recent album and a “remake” of the fan-favourite ’The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’. The latter, as cute a nostalgic throwback as it is, can’t quite emulate the warm rowdiness of its first iteration. Still, listening to it feels like coming across an old friend, and there’s something heartwarming about the way the room reacts exactly the same all those years later. As for those live tracks from ‘Tape Deck Heart’, only the top of the crop are picked and these renditions provide further proof, if any was needed, that Turner is a man of the stage. All in all, though the compilation is generally strong, there’s no denying it’s best suited to cherry-picking your favourite bits and ignoring the rest.
‘The Third Three Years’ by Frank Turner is out now on Xtra Mile Records.
Words by James Berclaz-Lewis (@bearclawlewis