FRANK TURNER needs you to believe in him. Even a sliver of lingering doubt within would lessen the message of this wildly charismatic British punk-folk singer. A peddler of faith, Turner is often (fittingly) described as an amalgamation of Joe Strummer and Billy Bragg, an anthemic voice that has delivered four full-lengths in the past five years, all with guitars firmly tuned to "fascist killing." Turner has emerged from his past (fronting the largely forgettable hardcore act Million Dead) to establish himself as the definitive voice of the unamplified punk-rock set.
Turner's latest, England Keep My Bones, is unapologetically stewed in Englishness—the title of which was culled from the Bard's The Life and Death of King John. Not without a few missteps along the way ("English Curse" and "Eulogy" could have been left on the cutting-room floor), Turner sharpens his message throughout Bones' inspiring call-to-arms anthems, neither settling in his sound, nor watering down this near-conceptual collection of numbers about the kingdom of Great Britain.
Songs like "Peggy Sang the Blues" and "Redemption" are magnificent in their own right, spaced out like bookends throughout Bones and proof of Turner's command of the pen. The former has all the inspiration of a "Hang in There, Baby" poster (sample lyric: "No one gets remembered for the things they didn't do"), but without a shred of irony, while the latter is alarming in its stark vulnerability ("I've tried so hard to not turn into my father").
Bones' best number might be its final one, the Richard Dawkins-approved campfire sing-along, "Glory Hallelujah," which joyfully erupts into a rousing chorus of "There is no God." Clearly not the first atheistic manifesto wrapped in a pop song, this modern-day "Dear God" pulls little punches in its secular humanist decry to back away from the altar and turn your faith within ("And I know you're scared of dying, man, and I am too/But just pretending it's not happening isn't gonna see us through").
With England Keep My Bones, Turner is making an audacious request of his listeners, but with his unwavering conviction and sheer positivity it's one that is hard to ignore. Perhaps Turner has been right all along; all we need is a little faith.