Over the last 12 years, Bahrain-born, British singer/songwriter Frank Turner has built a rapport with his devoted audience. The bond between them is unbreakable and feels almost sacred. The double-length Songbook is an overview of the 2000s, and marks the anniversary of the arrival of his solo debut, Sleep Is for the Week. Far from his first compilation, one might wonder -- initially -- what separates this set from the various Three Years compilations or Ten for Ten. But this set offers a twist that makes it worthy of purchase for both longtime fans and newbies. With 29 tracks spread over two discs, it's almost too much of a good thing.
Disc one is, for the most part, a proper remastered overview of highlights from the 2000s. Evidence lies in the opener, and one of the most beloved songs in Turner's catalog: "Four Simple Words," one of the more poignant and incisive songs about millennials yet written. 17 of the next 18 cuts contain the "hits" and deep tracks that have helped establish Turner as one of the U.K.'s most masterful songwriters. There are the mandatory audience-participation jams such as "Get Better" alongside the wiseacre "I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous," the jaunty solo electric rocker "Long Live the Queen," and gentler options including "Mittens," "Photosynthesis," and "The Opening Act of Spring." There's also a new track to close the disc out in the polished yet searing love song "There She Is." Fans know that Turner's career has had its share of romantic ups and downs, but this number, with its relatively slick production and a vocal and arrangement that suggests prime-era Robert Smith and the Cure, is a keeper.
Disc two is the real gem, however, and it's the one for seasoned fans. It offers ten tracks -- some repeats from disc one, and some different selections -- that have been reworked, sometimes radically. That said, there isn't a duff choice in the bunch. Check both versions of "Photosynthesis" and the even more startling "Glorious You" for evidence. In essence, these tracks have been totally revisioned, and can be heard as "new." The ever-so-slightly funky drum shuffle on "Polaroid Picture" offers this utterly devastating tune as a bittersweet reflection of empathy and acceptance rather than just regret. The new versions of "minor" works such as "Love Forty Down" and "Broken Piano" are welcome entries that deserve critical reappraisal. While disc one offers newcomers a nice, wide gateway into Turner's sometimes astonishing talents as a songwriter, the second offers seasoned listeners a new appreciation of him as a singer as well as an arranger of canny depth and sophistication. Turner proved long ago that he was a major singer/songwriter for the new millennium. On Songbook, he also opens the gate for listeners to accept him as a truly gifted all-around musician, whose relationship with his songs is ever-evolving and often utterly revelatory.