- Release Date: April 22nd, 2013
- Label: Xtra Mile / Interscope
- Tracks On Repeat
2. The Way I Tend To Be
3. Broken Piano
“The critics think we’re quaint but set to fall, but they’ve only seen the show from the stalls” sang Frank Turner on 2011 LP England Keep My Bones. It was a telling lyric: Frank Turner is often unfairly branded a ‘troubadour’, a follower of Billy Braggism and old-fashioned yet unworthy of hipster attention. Since 2011, Turner has sold out the 10,000 capacity Wembley Arena (“SO WHAT? IT WAS A ONE-OFF SHOW” his critics scream, as if to say the likes of Jamie T selling out the same venue wouldn’t be a big deal) and played the Olympics opening ceremony at the behest of director Danny Boyle. Now he returns with his fifth record, Tape Deck Heart, which proves to be the most confessional work of his to date.
Turner’s records have always had salient strings running through them. Predecessor England Keep My Bones was steeped in English heritage, history and wistfulness. 2009 effort Poetry of the Deed was a heavy, full-band affair which embraced rock’n'roll. Tape Deck Heart is, first and foremost, a break-up record. The common motifs throughout the album are that of heartbreak and longing, spitefulness and stepping forward.
None so are they more evident than opener ‘Recovery’. As the lead single from the record, the song represents one of the most commercial songs Turner has ever written. His ability to craft immediate pieces of music whilst still retaining punk rock sensibilities has a hint of Josh Ritter. The candid lyricism is steeped in his signature wit (sample lyric: “If anybody asks us let’s just tell them that we met in jail”) with brusque, urgent drums from Nigel Powell of the Sleeping Souls. The song is relatable and catchy and represents Turner at his best. ‘Recovery’ sets a precedent on the album for focusing on the breakdown of relationships, longing for answers and a lonely frustration. It’s a testament to Turner that the track isn’t even the strongest on the record.
‘Losing Days’ is packed full of Sleeping Souls harmonies and yet more bleak lyricism (sample lyric: “I’m collecting scars that never seem to fade”) which is entwined with upbeat, pop-punk jangly guitars. It is reminiscent of Turner live favourite ‘Father’s Day’ with similar musicianship and broken spirit. ‘The Way I Tend To Be’ builds upon the England Keep My Bones formula of folk guitars and Anglicana vocals. It is the sound of Turner longing for the good old days (“I remember you and the way you shine like truth in all you do”) and proves to be an album highlight.
It is the diversity of the record which cements its position as one of Turner’s best, though. The ache of ‘Good & Gone’ (“I have searched for you in the darkness of a dozen dingy dancefloors”) represents an emotional side to Turner we haven’t heard since the crestfallen nature of Love, Ire & Song track ‘Substitute’. ‘Tell Tale Signs’ follows, combining piercing guitar strumming with a resolute vocal. The track centres around a female character (presumably the same girl in the songs ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’ and ‘I Am Disappeared’) and Turner’s cries of “goddamit, Amy” are haunting. The track also holds a rare nod to his past (“with a disassembled disposable razor I stole from my dad”) and represents a bleak confession before the most fun song on the record.
‘Four Simple Words’ has been played live by Turner for over a year and is an overt swipe at the music industry. “We’re all so very 21st century” Turner laments, before blasting “lacklustre scenesters from Shoreditch” who “don’t really mean it”. The frustration boils over into the track and perhaps shows Turner’s pent-up anger at the fickle industry. The song is quintessentially punk in essence, remembering when bands had to “work for their keep” and “drove thousands of miles to play a show with no sleep”. ‘Polaroid Picture’ represents Turner’s brilliant poetry (“we used to be brothers, superheroes and warriors”) before a triple attack of heart-tugging lyricism at the end of the album.
‘Anymore’ is a gaunt look at relationship breakdown with Turner suggesting it met an end “not with a bang, but a whimper”. The acoustic nature displays the leaps that the Winchester-born singer-songwriter has made with his vocals. His voice reaches into corners you haven’t heard from him before, and that is represented best by the stunning climax of ‘Broken Piano’. The song is clearly the most brave song Turner has ever written, full of Freddie Mercury-esque whimpers and barren organs. The song best highlights the power of Rich Costey’s production. Turner spent three-times as long on this record as he has on any of his previous four, and it shows best on the finale. It is cleaner than Turner’s signature sound and, whilst this may not suit some, it shows a great progression from his Nambucca days.
As with any Turner record, there are a plethora of bonus tracks. ‘We Shall Not Overcome’ displays more heartbroken connotations as Turner sings “the girls I like don’t kiss too many boys”. The resounding message is one of hopelessness. “We shall not overcome, we shall underwhelm” he sings. ‘Tattoos’ is a journey through the history and mythology of tattoos (of which Turner is covered) before the brilliant ‘Time Machine’ tells a tale of Turner having “Donnie Darko daydreams” of visiting “rock’n'roll drive-through’s in the 1950s”.
The record may not be his most immediate work to date (except ‘Recovery’, of course) but the record is undoubtedly Turner’s own. His ability to pour his heart and soul into his music is a worthy trait and, by the end of the record, you feel like you’ve been put through the ringer. It is brutally confessional and honest. More importantly, however, it is a record which Turner needed to write. It nods to Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and even to Jack White’s Blunderbuss. The Anglicana lyricism is still evident but the overall tone of Turner’s music on the record is one of a forlorn individual who has been relinquished of hope. In an industry that is full of “lacklustre scenesters from Shoreditch”, you have got to respect a man who journeyed from Camden pubs to the grandest stage of all. This is just another chapter of that exciting and all-encompassing journey. See you at Wembley again next year, Frank.
By James Daniel Rodger
Dance Yrself Clean