With the reveal of Songbook – a surprise for some, others not so much – we have our first official worldwide 'best of' compilation from Frank Turner (Last Minutes and Lost Evenings was intended as a US-focused 'story-so-far' so stop looking at me funny). It's out 24 November 2017 and features. 29 tracks. Read them here. 18 of them are Frank's favourites from his recorded work so far, so we can all see if our tastes line up with his. There is one new track, 'There She Is', which you all probably know by now and gives a taster of a refreshed sound coming on the new album in 2018.
Where the compilation really sells itself though is the actual 'Songbook' part. There are ten rerecorded, rearranged and reimagined versions of previous songs included on CD2 (or LP 3, depending on your aural fixation). These are bonuses that Frank fans will certainly gravitate towards, especially after hearing a select few new versions of older songs at 2017's inaugural Lost Evenings festival..
Jokes can always be made about preferring the 'early stuff'. But there just are times when you really aren't being hipster (or as we used to say, 'scene') the first version of a song you heard might be your favourite whether it's the demo, live acoustic or radio session. This could be for all sorts of reasons, but outside of things like time and place, your state of mind, nostalgia or associating it with memories, it could be because it sounds "rawer" (ie. less polished, or even less finished). Perhaps you like the way a vocal melody goes on a live version, or you prefer the pace of a radio session whether brooding or breakneck. Usually, we don't even get to hear alternative recordings of studio album songs. They're quietly ushered away from the light and stored in a cold basement hidden from prying ears. Frank though is one of those rare artists who has ensured that listeners can easily access a whole selection of b-sides, live tracks, covers and alternative takes, mostly through the 'Three Years' compilations. You can buy each of those here, here and here (and also Ten For Ten which was released on vinyl originally as part of the First Ten Years limited edition vinyl box set) and you should if you're intrigued about the layers of development Frank has built upon as a musician, recording artist, and even his musical personality through constant craft.
Songbook is intriguing for those of us who are keen to hear how an artist decides to reinterpret his orignal recordings. It's the folk song mentality; once a song is out there, it's fair game for anyone to transform it into the form they feel most suits it or them, including the original songwriter. For others, this may be a time of choices; which of these songs you may not know very well do you prefer? Also, songs develop as artists play them live. Sometimes they become borderline unrecognisable as the band shapes and sculpts them for live audiences who demand different things to those tapping their toes at home.
For me, it can be as simple as a certain guitar sound at the right moment, a squeal of feedback that captures the ferociousness of feeling, the eerie swell from a pedal steel sending shivers my way, an ad lib on the mic that brings character to a song – another version doesn't even have to sound particularly different for me to prefer one over the other.
One of my favourite examples is Nirvana's 'Aneurysm' and it's an unusual one in that the version most people will have heard is probably not the studio version – the version captured live at Maida Vale studios and released on Incesticide will have probably been heard more than the studio b-side released for 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. But here's the thing: the radio session is probably better. It's noisier, it's faster, it's frantic, it's frequencies are boosted in all the right places where the studio b-side is ramped up across the board with Sound City Studios production values. Having said that, Kurt's gradual, ominous build to his primal scream on the b-side is fantastic. There is also a good live version used to promote the post-humous live album From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah back in 1997. But this version sorely misses the "beat it, beat it" refrain by Dave Grohl that, for me, makes the chorus. Taking another example closer to home, Chris T-T's piano version of 'Love Me, I'm A Liberal' is played entirely on keys leading to Chris quipping "yeah, of course I got piano lessons" while he plays a brilliant run on the ivories. The full-band version with The Hoodrats is great too, but it misses that humorous touch which makes the song a recent beloved favourite.
All this is to say: comparing different versions of songs is among some of the best personal music nerdery. And so to whet our appetites for Frank's forthcoming rerecordings, I've chosen some of my favourite alternative takes of Frank's studio songs released so far. Have a listen, see what you think, and then speculate as to just how you think these Songbook versions will alter your perception of the song, and possibly even challenge the way you listen to Frank's music. Or just disagree wholeheartedly and be wrong (wink emoji).
Imperfect Tense (Truck session) - Xtra Mile High Club Volume 1 / The First Three Years
This is one of the ones you hope for - a completely different take on a neglected but favourite album track, this one from Love Ire & Song. Frank has more opportunity to do this than most having started out solo acoustic and while his default now is full-band performances with the Sleeping Souls, when he's on his own he can always go back to what he knows. 'Imperfect Tense' is an energetic burst across an album that largely eschewed full-on rock numbers. This version takes 'Imperfect Tense' into a mournful, hangover regret folk song. The voicings of the chords fill the space where Polyfilla distortion has been dug out, while the chorus is a huge, necessary breath outwards . The tail end of the song lifts the performance into redemption, and it feels like the roots are where the song belongs.
Jet Lag (Rock) - 7digital bonus track for Love Ire & Song / The First Three Years
Another from Love Ire & Song, but role-reversed this time. As the title in parentheses suggests, this is a full band version of the song that appeared as the closer on Frank's second album. Where that one was a melancholy, drunk, late night shot at getting the most poignant, heart-rending take (and worked - it's a wonderful way to finish the album), this is full-steam ahead with electric guitars and drums. Yet it has a charm its own. It still captures a whisper of the chorus's melancholy edge and because of that it's not heavy handed. However, the bit that makes it stand out (and worth remembering here) for me is when the guitars suddenly switch to syncopation and chugging, with Frank yelling out "I used to be slick, subtle young hips, romantic young kissable lips / unbearable sharp...", sliding into a runaway delivery, sounding fantastic and completely turning the song into one of triumphant memory rather than lament. I'd say the piano version absolutely should end the album, but I'm glad the '(Rock)' version exists too.
Father's Day (live from London's Union Chapel) - Take To The Road (video only) / The Second Three Years
Father's Day has long been one of Frank's most affecting songs, from my hearing it on a bootleg live performance solo acoustic to its studio incarnation. It had been five years since Sleep Is For The Week had been released before this version was recorded live at the Union Chapel in Islington, London. It took a few slow-picked notes before the song's melody was discernable, but the sedate pace and gentle build disguised the song well. It rolls along pleasantly until the Union Chapel's holy acoustics hoist Frank's voice into the rafters for the crescendo where he bellows it out in harrowing fashion. It's thrilling while leaving a severe lump in the throat. Unforgettable months afterwards it was a very pleasant surprise that it was salvaged from the Take to the Road DVD special features for a separate audio release on The Second Three Years, further justifying these rarities releases for fans.
Redemption (Matt Nasir mix) – Ten For Ten
Strings are often called-out for being a cheap way to bring gravitas and grandiosity to a song. Their success is all in the scoring and the avoidance of oversaturation. In a brave move, the guitars that augment 'Redemption' are removed entirely, leaving Matt Nasir's fresh soundscape of violins and the original melodic piano keeping the song from coming adrift. Here, the orchestral flourishes retain the drama and soften the dynamics so there isn't such a drop from the instrumental passages between the first two verses. It's reminiscent of the beautiful 'All Is Full of Love' radio strings mix by Björk - it completely alters your feelings about the song. 'Redemption' has been about that excellent explosion of guitars, the climax and the subsequent descent into resignation for me (as heard on England Keep My Bones). Here, it's a free-flowing, elegant ode to fucking up and admitting it.
Hits & Mrs. (demo) – Ten For Ten
I haven't disliked many of Frank's songs at all, but certainly not quite as much as I did the first time I heard 'Heartless Bastard Motherfucker' (but, like many things, I've come round a bit on that one). 'Hits & Mrs'. from the Losing Days EP is second only to that, and though that's fairly joyless of me, I soon changed my mind when this one appeared. The song is sweet and tongue-in-cheek, and carefree, but the EP arrangement seemed too po-faced for it to work for me. This demo from Ten For Ten brings the playfulness out more. It's fantastic fun, and still caresses the heartstrings too. The studio version opens with mandolin and is perhaps a bit too stripped back. It works for the lovely pre-chorus, but jars on the chorus itself. The full-band version here really swings; it has a flurry of drums to bring in the electric guitar melody, it has an Americana twang that works perfectly for the refrain. Each little element brings a little more joy and silliness to the song and I prefer that to the bare-bones b-side. Even the "oooh-ee-ooh" bit towards the end is beautifully delivered.
Our Lady of the Campfires – Take to the Road Live 2009
It's a song that deserves to be heard live. Poetry of the Deed is not Frank's favourite recording, compared perhaps to what it could've been, and though I still love this song on there the live version plays with Frank's ever-so slightly tremulous voice in a scintillating way. The tight live band ensures a brooding and delightful switch into the ivories and acoustic breakdown. The pay off is Frank's voice careening across Shepherd's Bush Empire, as Nigel's backing vocals make it almost supernatural; the energy just draws breath and sears into the final combustible end that is on the verge of collapsing. Exhilarating.
Get Better – Positive Songs For Negative People acoustic disc
It's the song from Positive Songs For Negative People that translates easiest from acoustic to full band and back again that isn't already stripped back in the studio. I don't think I prefer this version as that tell-tale squall of guitar just kills me very time (and always will - I've long been a noise fiend, something to do with it filtering into my brain's own chaos), but the strength of the song is in Frank's conviction and it's on full bloom on the acoustic version. The other song I would love to have put here from this album is Love Forty Down but with the Punks In Vegas video version where I heard it for the second time since his set of new songs at St Vitus opening for Mineral. But the recorded acoustic version works too.
And that's it! Which alternative versions of Frank's songs do you most enjoy? What differences do you like to hear – vocal embellishments, different instruments, change of pace? Shinier recordings or rougher mixes? Ever heard a song that turned out entirely differently to how you expected? Which Songbook version are you looking forward too most? Start a discussion on Twitter or Facebook and let us know!