Friday, 9 November 2007

Top 100 Albums - #59: Campfire Punkrock EP (2006)

Folk musician Frank Turner has his first and last entry in the shape of his solo debut, Campfire Punkrock EP.Born Francis Turner in Bahrain, Turner was educated at Eton and entered the music business in 2001 as the vocalist for hardcore punk band Million Dead. The group, which included Turner's old friend Ben Dawson on drums, lasted four years and released two albums. But after the loss of guitarist Dean Cameron in late 2004, the band's fortunes and finances dwindled, and they parted ways at the end of a tour in September 2005. Capitalising upon well-received solo gigs in 2004 - intended to expose Million Dead rather than undermine them - Turner began a full-time solo career and relocated to Oxford to compose material for an EP.

Campfire Punkrock is the result. It opens with 'Nashville Tennessee', a bright track with a country-ish tinge to it. Turner is not the best singer, but he makes up for this in some very sharp lyrics and a "punk rock sense of honesty." This does sound very much like how country and western would have sounded if it had been invented in Britain. It has a folkish sensibility, combined with some nice blues-sounding chords in the middle. It's a very decent opening which establishs the tone and style of both the EP and Turner's oeuvre.

Having marked himself out as being at the more intelligent end of the singer-songwriter scale, Turner now gets political with 'Thatcher Fucked The Kids'. Here the lyrics are barbed, expletive and, most importantly of all, right on the button. This song is truly Dylan-esque in that it sums up the predicament of a new generation, coping with the turmoils of 2006. You only have to look at the first few lines of the bridge to realise his lyrical brilliance:

A generation raised on the welfare state
Enjoyed all of its benefits and did just great
But as soon as they were settled as the richest of the rich
They kicked away the ladder,
Told the rest of us that life's a bitch

Sadly, however, that's where the praise temporarily grinds to a halt. 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The One Of Me' is a run-of-the-mill stripped-back indie punk number, reminiscent of early Green Day synthesised awkwardly with The Undertones. Turner shouts the lyrics over the flatlined melody, in a effort to disguise their relative shallowness. The structure of the chorus is pinched straight from The Buzzcocks' 'Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have' and it's just generally unoriginal.

But the great thing about Turner, as it turns out, is that he learns from his mistakes. 'Casanova Lament' may be the shortest track at only 2:14, but it still manages to tell a story and cram a lot in without seeming top-heavy or slushy. If it were done by anyone else, this kind of gentle strummer sounds like the theme song for a perfume advert. Turner, on the other hand, makes this a honest love song of regret through his delivery, first and foremost, but through his precise playing too.

The EP closes with 'I Really Don't Care What You Did On Your Gap Year', whose title sounds like either a disillusioned student anthem or a Panic! At The Disco offcut. Like 'Casanova Lament', this is a romantic number, with all the brutal honesty of the morning after a one-night stand. Again, it's down-tempo, guitar heavy and honestly delivered, but this is only to be expected since Turner is still finding his sound. If the entire record had consistently of regurgitations of this, it might not have fared so well. As it is, it's pretty damn good.

As folk records go, Campfire Punkrock veers closer to the political barbs of Bob Dylan than the glossy nostalgia of Show Of Hands or the heart-wrenching spirituality of Martyn Joseph (see my review of Deep Blue (2005), #94). There are traces of Turner's punk-tinged upbringing both in its brutal honesty and blunt delivery, and it is where these two come to height at the same time that the record is truly great. The downside to the EP are the genre-hopping slip-ups along the way - very few of the experiments, especially the middle track, reward the listener's patience. In the final analysis, however, this is a wonderfully piquant record which should reward its creator with the success he deserves.

3.80 out of 5

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