The First Three Years comprises two LPs worth of early material -- split singles, B-sides, unreleased tracks, and EPs -- from British troubadour Frank Turner, presented on beautiful red, black, and clear-splattered vinyl (or solid-colored, but seriously, go for the splattered version if available). His turn from hardcore shredder into folk strummer was pretty painless, and these tracks are proof of how consistent and successful he was, even from early on. There's no denying the talents of Turner to craft perfect little lines in every song that hit the heart of the matter more eloquently than you could even try. So for the already initiated, the first disc is terrific, though not exactly necessary (unless, of course, you don't already own the separate albums), as it mostly just contains those first two EPs -- Campfire Punkrock and The Real Damage -- and Turner's split with Jonah Matranga. The second record is more interesting and unexpected ("Jet Lag" actually rocks here), and fans will have a hard time not skipping straight to it. The more piecemeal of the two, the disc is also more exciting in a way, kicking off with excellent covers of hardcore classics gone acoustic -- Bad Brains' "Pay to Cum" and Black Flag's "Fix Me" -- before switching into the slow and gently picked terrain of "Hold Your Tongue." A simple, aching, and bitter song to an ex-lover, it owns a nakedness different than most of Turner's songs -- and it's a definite standout. Elsewhere, re-recordings of previously released songs often seem rawer and barer, half the time sounding as though recorded in a closet (which is definitely possible), and they're most exhilarating at those parts when you feel like you're catching Turner in a moment alone and totally uninhibited, as when he's on the verge of losing his voice (neck veins popping) midway through "Worse Things Happen at Sea." The compilation ends strongly with three covers, all showing off his ability to effortlessly make songs his own. "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" is tender and warm, a great acoustic spin on the Postal Service's original blippy version. The potent debut single from Turner's previous band, Million Dead, "Smiling at Strangers on Trains," is taken down several notches as well with lovely results, while ABBA's "Dancing Queen" is actually a lot less corny and ridiculous than one would expect, played as earnestly as it is. As with many compilations, The First Three Years does its job of rounding up spare tracks into one neat container, yet the bonus here is how strong almost every song actually is. Thus, it may not be the best starting point for Turner newbies, but it's an extremely solid collection of songs, and one fans will definitely not want to miss.
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