Frank Turner has always been a man of the people. He has a unique gift for writing full-throated singalongs which sound just as good in your car as they do in a jam-packed concert hall. Be More Kind, Turner’s seventh solo offering, arrives at a time when the people are divided like never before and represents his attempt to reconcile a generally positive worldview with an increasingly negative world. Though his heart is firmly set in the right place and his message is typically insightful, Be More Kind doesn’t manage to be much more than the sum of its parts; a solid (if mostly forgettable) outing that doesn’t quite rise to the challenge of our times.
But what challenging times. Donald Trump’s tiny fingerprints are all over the record (see track five, literally titled “Make America Great Again”), although I suspect Brexit and the rise of European nationalism are on Turner’s mind as well. This is his first overtly political record, and it casts the problems of the present as both urgent and perplexing. “Don't worry if you don't know what to do” he sings on the opener, highlighting the confusion he feels about how things went so far astray. In the face of the confusion of changing times and technology, the album finds comfort in the same thing that has always comforted Frank: other people.
It’s refreshing to hear this sort of message preached so earnestly at a time when the world seems irreparably factionalized. However, the album falters in its delivery. Turner’s sound has long been a Pop amalgam of Folk, Punk, and good old fashioned Rock ‘n’ Roll. On Be More Kind, the balance shifts distinctly towards Pop. There’s more apparent in-studio fussing on this album than any of his previous work. While this isn’t necessarily problematic on its own, it doesn’t make up for the fact the Frank’s seemingly bottomless well of anthemic vocal melodies is starting to dry up. “1933” is the only track on the album that really plays into his shout-along strengths, and though it stands alongside his best work, the album could really use a few more songs of its kind.
Indeed, Be More Kind is far and away Turner’s most restrained work. Though the pleasant Pop sound he is peddling here works well enough on “Little Changes” and “Brave Face,” neither feel like particularly vital inclusions to the Frank Turner canon. “Blackout,” an ironically synthesizered warning against over reliance on technology, makes good use of Turner’s new sonic palette and is one of the album’s few standouts.
Frank Turner has alway been more interesting to me for what he says than how he says it. Though his signature lyrical empathy is still present on this album, it is strangely muted, especially considering the album is a call for empathy in the face of troubling times. Be More Kind is a unique protest album that avoids taking one side over another wherever it can. That may strike some people as a little wishy-washy, but demanding that people take sides is kind of what started this mess to begin with. The times may be a-changin’, but Frank Turner isn’t. As much as people have torn the world apart in the past few years, Frank still believes that we are the only ones who can put it back together. It’s just a shame that album isn’t as vital as what it’s trying to say.
For fans of: The Lumineers, middle-period The Cure, love trumping hate
Our take: A clear, necessary message conveyed through pop music that feels a little stale