Frank Turner ‘Tape Deck Heart’ – Review

30 Apr
For every person who has ever been dumped there is a person who has done the dumping. It’s logic. Yet you wouldn’t know it if your only experience of human relations came through pop music. It’s only ever the victims who air their emotions, you don’t often hear from the perpetrators. But on his new album ‘Tape Deck Heart’, Frank Turner bravely, and slightly heartlessly, proclaims ‘It wasn’t hard/ Three short steps from your bed to the door/ Darling I can’t look you in the eyes now and tell you I’m sure if I love you anymore.’ He ends the song with a less hesitant/more blunt ‘I don’t love you anymore’. It reminds me of another one of 2013’s most memorable climaxes, on Biffy Clyro’s ‘The Jokes on Us’ where Simon Neil bellows an equally heartbreaking (if not more so) ‘I’m in love with somebody else!’The track on which Frank Turner ponders his feelings for his long-time partner is ‘Anymore’, the most direct and stripped back song on the new album. Each of the record’s 12 songs (along with the six bonus songs on the ‘deluxe’ edition) chronicle his heartache in some way.
He wears his heart proudly on his sleeve (just above the countless tattoos and self-harm scars he regularly makes reference to) which is endearing and unsettling in equal measures. There are probably three times as many lyrics on this album as a regular record, and there are nearly as many clunkers as there are winners (see for example the Queen meets Billy Brag stylings of ‘Four Simple Words’) but it’s hard to deny he has a way with honest, direct wordplay.  ‘I’m not drinking anymore’ he promises on one track, lingering on the last syllable before adding ‘but then I’m not drinking any less.’ On ‘Fisher King Blues’ he encourages parents to be nasty so that future ‘Nashville country singers’ can sing about the terrible things they did. It’s this mixture of heartfelt honesty and humour that elevated him from an underground former hardcore hero to the guy who opened the Olympic Games.
In terms of music Frank Turner does what Frank Turner does; finely tuned, well crafted, old-fashioned songwriting. The mix is thick with a healthy balance of folky acoustic elements (honky tonk piano, banjo and ukulele are all used more than sparingly) and meaty punk rock elements. It’s never innovative, rarely unique and occasionally a bit boring but it’s an extremely hearty, well-meaning record that leaves the far more popular (and far more dull) Mumford and Sons coughing in the dust. If I have a complaint it is in Turner’s vocal delivery; The melodies are strong but his voice is still a little bland and unmoving.  Something about his distant ‘matter of fact’ tone doesn’t compliment the more personal lyrics and I can’t help wishing that on the rawer songs he would sound a bit more in to what he’s saying. Of course, his previous albums dealt with storytelling in the third person, and despite the new autobiographical bent, he still sings these songs like he’s telling stories, not baring his soul. It’s what makes this a very good album rather than a classic one.
‘Losing Days’ is probably the best song on here; it’s about how life becomes more and more mundane the older you get, and how you no longer find much pleasure in things that used to give you kicks. He sings about the fear, pride and thrill of getting his first tattoo, and the lack thereof now –  he even  gets them when he’s bored, no doubt chasing that initial thrill. He confesses elsewhere that he isn’t the man he once was – ‘how could I be with all the things I’ve done and the places I’ve been /  i’d be a machine If I’d stayed the same’. It’s not a pretty truth but it’s a truth all the same. Sometimes people just grow apart. And sometimes tapes get tangled in the tape deck, and it’s a nightmare to untangle them. But if you ever want to use it again, it’s just something that has to be done. For Turner, these songs are a means of untangling.

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