Frank Turner’s Undefeated: Songs of Suffering and Resilience

Rachel Syens

I think we’ve all felt like Job. Maybe we don’t know his same level of suffering (or maybe we do). But we’ve all experienced a time when life beats us down and it’s a struggle to go about our daily motions, let alone remain steadfast in our beliefs. British punk-folk singer Frank Turner’s tenth studio album, Undefeated, mirrors the story of Job in structure and theme by reminding us that we can remain resilient in the face of adversity.

Turner began his musical career in the post-hardcore band Million Dead. This influence can be heard throughout Undefeated, his first project to be fully self-produced. Loud, brash songs like “Never Mind the Back Problems” and “Girl From the Record Shop” feature heavy percussion, guitar solos, and Turner’s signature hardcore screams. Songs like these make Turner a delight to see live—the energy he brings to a stage is electric. But Turner is also known for softer songs, a unique mix of ballads that showcase his gruff vocals well, as heard on the heart wrenching “Ceasefire” and raw “On My Way.

Lyrically, Turner has never shied away from being open about his own life, deftly weaving his own stories into lyrical poetry. He has been open with fans about failed romances, addiction, and even his difficult relationship with his father. In Undefeated, Turner takes on a narrative about the changing world. In “Never Mind the Back Problems,” along with “No Thank You For the Music,” Turner laments aging and seeing a changing industry that no longer embraces him (“Didn’t you read the magazines? They said that punk is dead”), while also remaining resilient in the face of change, vowing to continue being himself (“No thank you for the music / That effortlessly fits the aesthetic / The sound of a culture that's resigned to its art / Being little more than an anesthetic”).

The Book of Job, in detailing Job’s losses of family and material wealth, mirrors Turner’s structure of Undefeated. Turner moves from the brash and tongue-in-cheek “Never Mind the Back Problems,” a song about the very nature of resilience, to the slower, serious “Ceasefire,” which articulates living with a haunted past. Turner skillfully weaves loud and soft, fun and serious songs throughout Undefeated; moments of relief come in the form of songs like “Girl from the Record Shop,” a short, sweet song about falling in love. This goes straight into “Pandemic PTSD,” and we are jolted out of the love bubble and back to the real world: “I'm haunted by a kind of mourning / For the life that we left in 2019 / I know it wasn't perfect, but it's what I knew.”

Though their life circumstances were different—Turner has openly shared his past struggles, while Job was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1)—both men’s stories mirror each other, with Turner living through a pandemic and Job a cursed life. Each can teach us a lesson about remaining faithful and resilient. Both men lament what they have lost, going through stages of grief. Job 3 reminds us that it’s normal (and healthy) to express our emotions: “What I’ve feared has come upon me; what I’ve dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, only turmoil.” In grief, we often face denial about our current circumstances and yearn for a simpler time. Turner sings about this in “East Finchley”: “If I followed those tracks, would they take me back? / If I jumped the barriers they put up between us when I got off the train / Could I start again?” Moving from verse to chorus, Turner’s voice, soft against acoustic guitar and simple percussion, builds in a dramatic crescendo. We can feel his pain, his deep longing to return to the past.

Across Turner's lyrics and Job's words, both articulate this feeling of wanting to escape and leave the world behind.

In Job 7:21, Job says: “For soon I will lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I will be no more.” Echoing this sentiment is Turner’s “International Hide and Seek Champions,” a song based on the real D.B. Cooper's story. This song feels almost playful—the guitar riffs and the percussive rhythm that’s easy to clap along with, combined with the clever title, make this a standout “fun” song from the record despite its serious subject matter. Turner sings: “Let's take a leap before the world goes down in flamеs . . .The tales will spread that perhaps we're dead / And we'll encourage you to think that that's true.” Like many of us, Job and Turner both romanticize the notion of leaving it all behind while holding that in tension with the reality that they can't always outrun their problems.

While both men detail the realities of suffering, they also encourage us to make peace with our circumstances. Both the Book of Job and Undefeated begin and end with resilience. Job 1:22 tells us that “Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” after his family was killed, while Turner, in “Do One,” reminds us: “I'm still standing up.” Though Job is brought through many trials and laments his pain, he remains faithful in Job 27: “[A]s long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not say anything wicked, and my tongue will not utter lies.” In the end, Job’s life is restored and he is rewarded for his faithfulness. Life doesn’t always work out for us that way. Often, we don’t see silver linings in our pain. But the lesson still applies: with God, we can remain resilient.

There are echoes of this in Turner’s final and title track, where he sings, “When it feels like the work was for nothing / And you're wrecked and in retreat / Survival adds up to something: Independent, undefeated.” Turner reminds us that, though life may not have gone to plan, he is able to leave regret in the past. Though Turner himself is not religious, this message threaded through Undefeated can provide encouragement to Christians that there’s hope for us in the seemingly hopeless moments, and that we, too, can move beyond pain and toward a brighter future. Job, who remained resilient in the face of great adversity, might amend Turner’s “Undefeated” lyrics to say: “Survival and faith adds up to something: remain with God, undefeated.”


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Topics: Music