Albums of the week: From Frank Turner to Plan B
Folk-rock singer Frank Turner returns with his most politically charged album yet, and Plan B makes his long-awaited comeback with a third studio album.
FRANK TURNER — BE MORE KIND
Don’t Worry, the opening track on folk-rock singer-songwriter Frank Turner’s seventh album, is a statement for the anxious times we live in, telling us, “Don’t worry if you don’t know what to do”. It sets a theme for the rest of the album.
Elsewhere, 1933, a commentary on the state of politics, reminds us that “the first time it’s a tragedy/the second time it’s a farce” — clearly a reminder of what happened before the Second World War and what is happening again in some parts of the world.
While there are a few non-political songs, it’s when Turner sticks with politics that his songwriting ability and musicianship shines through.
On the track named after Donald Trump’s presidential campaign slogan (Make America Great Again), we are told of the kindness and hospitality that Turner experienced in the US during his tours and are offered some rousing “suggestions from the special relationship”, such as: “Let’s make America great again by making racists ashamed again.”
It could be the most political album from Frank Turner in a while, and it may well be his best yet.
PLAN B — HEAVEN BEFORE ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE
This is Plan B’s third studio album, and it’s been an eight-year wait for fans. In 2010 there was The Defamation Of Strickland Banks, and then soundtrack album Ill Manors, so 2018’s studio album release, Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose, has been a long time coming.
Plan B, real name Ben Drew, hasn’t been fading into the background, though. His album is everything you could hope for — staying true to the sounds that defined his early days, but also venturing into new territory.
Grateful is a strong opener — easy on the ear and equally catchy. Other stand-out tracks include Stranger, Heartbeat and the already released title track. It’s A War will also no doubt be a hit with fans. Straight after that you’re thrown straight into Plan B at his best with Guess Again, which is kind of what the entire album keeps you doing.
JANELLE MONAE — DIRTY COMPUTER
Until now, Janelle Monae’s public persona has been androgynous android, but there’s been a hormonal surge in the system and there is rage in the machine in this, her third studio album.
Her sound continues to cross genres from hip-hop to funk, with more in between. Make Me Feel is unmistakeably inspired by mentor and hero Prince, as is the sense of her revealing raw sexuality, but there’s also a strong statement on the state of the nation. The closing track, Americans, takes a swipe at the American dream, while Crazy, Classic Life says everything might be a mess but let’s party anyway.
The musical landscape is mostly upbeat and celebratory but, lyrically, there is power, intelligence and strength.
HAILEY TUCK — JUNK
Hailey Tuck is the latest in the seemingly never-ending stream of modern acts taking tracks from rock and pop’s back catalogue and re-interpreting them in a self-consciously retro style.
Although the Texas-born singer has at least has headed down the lesser explored of avenue of old-school jazz, and has first-class credentials in the form of renowned producer Larry Klein, it nevertheless still makes for a wan listening experience.
The style is a little too mannered to suit to these mainly mid-to-late 20th century originals made famous by artists including The Kinks, Paul McCartney and Pulp. Even songs closer in spirit, such as Joni Mitchell’s Cactus Tree, are rendered somewhat inert, the emotional content exchanged for era-specific authenticity.
Although Junk is certainly not rubbish, it will most likely prove too junky for jazz purists and not junky enough for pop fans.
MIDDLE KIDS — LOST FRIENDS
After solo projects and a fine EP, Middle Kids’ debut demands you take notice. As they namecheck Maryland, we could be in the USA’s east coast or their native Australia, and the record balances universal appeal with hooky, visceral personality.
As fuzz, distortion and stacked harmonies recur, it’s obvious the trio is throwing everything into its debut. Arrangements switch gear in service of a song, but occasionally you hear the clang of a kitchen sink.
Singer Hannah Joy’s songwriting seems (a) emotionally healthy and (b) to make the sound utterly exciting. Give Lost Friends a listen before your actual friends start recommending it.