The eighth studio album from folk-punk singer Frank Turner, ‘No Man’s Land’ is a thorough reflection of feminist outlook as it journeys through the life of 13 brilliant women – 12 from the forgotten past, and the other from the present in the form of his compassionate mother.
What really makes this concept-based album authentic is Frank’s steadfast attempt to make the album about the women in question, rather than himself. Produced by Catherine Marks and featuring a glittering list of female musicians, ‘No Man’s Land’ is undeniably fraught with tinges of Frank Turner’s own musical story but it works hard to tell thirteen unique stories that aren’t his own.
Opening with the old-style folk-punk ‘Jinny Bingham’s Ghost,’ an atmospheric track which graphically portrays the story of a 17th century Camden landlady, the 13-track production, is very typical of Turner’s musical stylings. Other tracks such as the punchy folk-rock ‘Sister Rosetta’- that pays homage to the “original sister of soul” by highlighting a strong, defiant and fiercely talented black woman, who defined term ‘rock’- the folky ‘The Perfect Wife’, the sweeping sonics of ‘I Believed You, William Blake’ and the melodic ‘Silent Key’ continue to stretch through Frank’s familiar folksy territory.
‘No Man’s Land’ is a well-intended move that aims to use the concept of his own male privilege to highlight both the struggles and valiant successes of female historical icons.
Toeing the line between being a feminist and a male, Turner succeeds impressively at certain points of his empowering creation, such as the first standout of the album ‘Nica’. Providing an unexpected jazz break to the haze of typical folk, this track is a joyful ode to the heiress Nica Rothschild who fought for the Free French and believed to be heavily interested in jazz music. Here, Turner’s influences magically fade away and only the story of a strong woman is left behind.
In spite of impactful soundscapes such as ‘Nica’, Frank’s feminist values seem to lose their shine and he falls short of executing what he set out to ; shining a light on forgotten women. By adding a bit too much “man” to the ‘no man’s land’, tracks such as ‘The Hymn Of Kassiani,’ and ‘The Graveyard of the Outcast Dead,’ Turner dismisses the women by telling their valiant stories from the clumsy, and perhaps underdeveloped perspective of a man.
These first-person perspectives that veer away from the point of the album, have been acknowledged by Frank himself as a controversial move, which begs the question of why they were presented as they were – one can only wonder if it was a subconscious move from a male artist to show his musical prowess in this journey that was meant to be just about women?
To Frank’s credit, he manages to bounce back with Huda Sha’arawi’s anthemic musical tribute ‘The Lioness’- a track which bears musical resemblance to ‘1933’ from Turner’s previous album ‘Be More Kind’- and finally the closing track ‘Rosemary Jane’. This candid track that describes Frank’s mother in her valiant efforts to singlehandedly bring up a family on her own is a personal depiction of motherhood, and undoubtedly the biggest highlight of the album, as the polished orchestral melody blends with a tirade of raw emotions to bring things to a close.
Overall it can be said that on ‘No Man’s Land’, Frank Turner has married his musical curiosity with his natural inquisitiveness to come up with a somewhat varied, introspective and thought-provoking offering. It is an interesting concept -that could have become a beacon for the perspectives of (male) feminists in music- that failed because it was executed poorly a few too many times.
Words: Malvika Padin
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