In the decade after the breakup of his retro punk outfit Million Dead, singer/songwriter Frank Turner has transformed himself from the solo folk-punk singer who played dank London basements to headlining Wembley, writing a best-selling autobiography, and becoming the subject of ideological political intrigue in The Guardian. Like 2013's Tape Deck Heart, Positive Songs for Negative People looks back and in, but only as a way of integrating a bruised and broken self. Backing band the Sleeping Souls and producer Butch Walker are the twin engines that fuel his transformation. "The Angel of Islington" is a solo acoustic number. From the banks of the River Thames, he desires to "wash my feet and cleanse my sins…" He's pondering the relationship that was so devastating on Tape Deck Heart, but resolves to move beyond it no matter the cost. "Get Better" is a melodic, anthemic basher (complete with Springsteen-esque pianos), where Turner testifies "I got me a future/I'm not stuck in the past/I've got no new tricks...But me, I'm a machine and I'm built to last." By the time he reaches the end, he's no longer merely talking about himself but exhorting all of us to "get better." Further on, buoyed by boisterous electric guitars and a bruising snare, Turner sings about stepping out from his desolation to face "The Next Storm." As the album moves on, his songs address over and again the topic of emergence and his belief -- naive though it may be -- in the power of rock & roll to engage the collective "us" as a way of redeeming the world one individual at a time. In "Glorious," via blended acoustic and electric guitars, slipshod snare, and a rumbling bassline, he gets under the skin of the listener: "Come on now, if we all pulled together/We could lift the weight of the world from your shoulders…." His declaration is answered by an enormous backing chorus, which gives it the conviction of a gospel song. The clattering, punk burn of "Out of Breath," with its triple-time snare, careening piano, and wiry guitars, is the album's most unhinged track; it's Turner's closest musical relation to his work with Million Dead. "Demons," another soaring rocker, addresses disappointments, compromises, and hard-won blessings: "At this truth we have arrived/God damn it's great to be alive." Out of character -- at least on the surface -- is "Silent Key," a poignant story of astronaut Christa McAuliffe's final radio transmission from the doomed Space Shuttle Challenger, but fits the album's overall themes. Positive Songs for Negative People is a transitory record. Musically, it doesn't contain anything new -- that's for an album further down the road -- but it doesn't need to. Here, solid songs filled with common-sense poetry bristle with renewed energy and purpose. It's an invigorating, infectious set that reaffirms Turner's faith in music's power to motivate and heal.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek