In a time where streaming services curate “essential” playlists with ease, the idea of releasing a “Best Of” collection is pretty redundant. Nevertheless, Frank Turner seems to think ‘Songbook’, a “retrospective” collection is worth seeing the light of day.
Split across two CDs, disc one sticks to the routine; offering 18 popular cuts from Turner’s solo career so far with the usual, throwaway “new” track (‘There She Is’) tacked on to the end. It’s a hollow, and unnecessary addition to a fairly consistent first disc. All the “hits” and fan favourites are here; ‘I Still Believe’, ‘Photosynthesis’, ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’, ‘Next Storm’ and so on.
Disc two is where things get interesting. It sees Turner (and the Sleeping Souls) re-record 10 songs with varying results. On the surface, it sees Turner and company turn them on their head; ‘The Ballad Of Me & My Friends’ becomes an ominous piano ballad. While ‘Long Live The Queen’ and ‘Photosynthesis’ replicate the energetic tone from his full-band live shows.
Turner also takes the opportunity to highlight some lesser-known songs. ‘Broken Piano’ is rejuvenated with distant, twinkling guitars and Turner’s powerful voice creating a compelling, haunting tone. ‘Josephine’ is thoroughly intimate with just Turner and his plucky acoustic guitar.
Likewise popular songs such as ‘The Way I Tend To Be’ and ‘I Am Disappeared’ are given a new lease of life. The former is a smooth, stripped-back offering. Whereas the latter begins atmospherically; sustain keys and affective pianos complement Turner’s vocals yet it’s spoiled when the rest of his band later join in.
Although it’s admirable to treat fans to reworked versions of old songs, you can’t help but feel this whole collection is merely a stop-gap release for his next studio album. It’s clear Turner is here for the long run and this set feels unnecessary. Nevertheless, it highlights the wealth of good songs Turner has in his catalogue so far.
‘Songbook’ by Frank Turner is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings/Polydor.
Words by Sêan Reid (@SeanReid86)