Frank Turner isn’t exactly a musician out of time. He’s made a career embracing the past while making fairly relevant music. He’s also noted for having a diverse taste in music. If one had to guess, he has an equal affinity for ABBA and Queen as he does for Rancid. He also will unashamedly speak his political views and point a finger at those he sees as fallacies and evil. Be More Kind sees Turner seeking empathetic people while taking a step away from his folk and punk roots and leaning into a more radio-friendly indie rock sound.
Serving as Turner’s follow up to 2015’s Positive Songs for Negative People, it’s funny how fitting of a title that could’ve been for this album. Thematically, this isn’t as much an album about unity as it is an album about perseverance. It also seems like a continuation of the track that stood out most from Positive Songs, “Mittens,” a song that strays away from the earnest heart-on-his-sleeve punk of Turner’s past. Interestingly, most of the songs that are somewhat empathetic are the songs that see Turner taking a step towards being more like radio-ready singer-songwriter like in “Don’t Worry” or “Going Nowhere.” There’s little separating him from a massive pop star like Ed Sheeran. Even the more new wave and dance influenced “There She Is” and “Blackout” seem like they borrow from a number of pop stars. This still does have the blurring of lines between Turner’s roots and seeming future. “Be More Kind” and “1933” tip their hats to Turner’s folk and punk predecessors respectively, but a song like “Make America Great Again” takes both of those and throws in some of his new sounds and turns it into something really excellent. While some of Be More Kind suffers from the growing pains of a transitioning artist, it does lay down a solid base.
Turner has never shied from speaking about his political views, but it never gets discussed that he is mostly a centrist. Looking back on a song like “Love Ire & Song,” it expresses discontent for both ends of the political spectrum. Be More Kind sees Turner both playing a middle of the road, understanding person and someone that acknowledges the need to fight for survival. Songs of empathy like “Don’t Worry” or the title track are punctuated by tracks like the fiery warning of “1933” or the uplifting resilience of “Brave Face.” Songs like the bouncy “Little Changes,” makes the best case for empathy:
We spend our energy getting angry instead of being kinder
Singing hymns of praise in a city given up on by the gods
So far from okay, tongue-tied and afraid
The big things stay the same until we make
Turner can be compelling in his combative nature. “Make America Great Again” is built on a shock and release in the lyrics, and its use of its titular phrase. “21st Century Survival Blues” is both about being prepared for political revolution and it also something of a love song in continuation of “There She Is.” The album is built on Turner’s folk songs that seek unity or the poppy indie rock tunes, but he shines most when he gets a little obtuse like in “1933” or the chorus of “MAGA” where he sings “Let’s make America great again/By making racists ashamed again.” But the pep of “Brave Face” or “Little Changes” can also get stuck in a listeners head.
Now, the problem with Frank Turner is his centrism. As much as his message of unity is nice, it doesn’t necessarily seem like the best approach. The songs that encourage bravery or preparation for bad times are excellent, but the songs about unity seem like they’re preaching to an audience that’s more prepared for battle. Unity is nice, but it seems like people want to stop and see each other as humans has deteriorated, because it is sort of useless. So often do people give kindness and don’t receive it. While the sentiment is nice, these times seem like they’d be better suited for a much angrier Turner record. So many of us are tired of having conversations with people who don’t listen, we want a battle cry.