Over the span of 12 years, Frank Turner has made a name for himself as a musician. Songbook is an echo back through his catalog of work, a greatest hits comprised of new and old reworkings of tracks since the beginning. There is still the playfulness and sense of humor in Songbook, but it also casts a different light on Turner’s classics. As a whole, this album can almost seem overwhelming to someone who isn’t familiar with Turner’s work. There is also something to be said about the release of a greatest hits mere months before a brand new album is released. Either way, Songbook is enjoyable for what it is as a retrospective reflection.
The narrative of this album is severely lacking, jumping around to different reworkings of the same song while only one song, “There She Is”, is showcased as a newcomer. This track has a similar taste, but seems foreign at the same time. There is a petulance that’s off-putting to the rest of Turner’s work on the album. That being said, Songbook is genuinely enjoyable. Turner’s gritty, rock n’ roll voice stays true to form, almost as if a permanent smile is plastered on his lips while he sings. The licks from the guitar and the ska-like feel of the overall orchestration is fun to listen to, as well. There’s a truth to the storytelling, a soulfulness that is hard to come by. Included on the album is 2013’s “Plain Sailing Weather”, a coy and self-deprecating, relatable and unapologetic song. There’s an undercurrent of darkness in Turner’s work that can easily catch someone off-guard, granting him the opportunity to showcase all sides.
On the other hand, it is rather questionable why Turner would release a greatest hits album right before new material surfaces. It would be easy to understand if he’d reworked a handful of songs and released them to generate buzz for the new album, but this compilation is filled to the brim with copies of older work. It’s hard to hold the repetition against Songbook, though, considering Turner’s talent and legacy. After all, this is a greatest hits album, so it’s difficult to knock it for what it is.
As a whole, Songbook is a wonderful trip down nostalgia lane. Turner’s work is still as relevant today as it was 12 years ago, and it’s important to remember his lasting impact. The playfulness and gritty truth is still here for the taking. Turner provides his audience with a collection of meaningful tracks that are clearly key in our understanding of him as it is key for his understanding of himself. Although Songbook doesn’t seem absolutely necessary, it is still a treat to go back and revisit the work of a very talented and engaging artist.