Before I begin, let’s make it clear that the chances of this review being objective are incredibly slim. Frank Turner has been a hero of mine for many years.
Before I begin, let’s make it clear that the chances of this review being objective are incredibly slim. Frank Turner has been a hero of mine for many years. His work has sound-tracked my journey from adolescence to adulthood, and his gigs have provided me with some of the best nights of my life. None of this, however, really matters—an artist is always judged on his latest work, and Turner lives or dies by the music that he releases. That he’s the hardest-working man in music, or one of the most humble, is ultimately neither here nor there. If his music was terrible, then his humility would be justified, and his constant gigging rendered pointless.
So, I won’t eulogise about how amazing a person Frank Turner is, and I won’t dwell upon his Etonian roots, or his oft-misunderstood political leanings. Tape Deck Heart, his latest album that charted at number two in the UK charts on Sunday, a phenomenal achievement for someone who, five albums earlier, was playing in near-empty pubs, and has risen by remaining true to himself, deserves to be considered solely as a work of art.
The record, according to Turner himself, is essentially a break up album. However, it uniquely manages to avoid the clichés that so often make albums of this type insufferable, self-indulgent, self-pitying bores. Turner covers break up from differing angles, creating over-arching themes of loss and change, and not just a break up in the traditional terms of a relationship.
Tape Deck Heart begins with ‘Recovery’, a song with a clear message: ‘Darling, sweet lover, won’t you help me to recover.’ ‘Recovery’ is a track which expresses the pain of a break up, and vocalises the feeling that there’s only one way that you can get over it, only one person who can return you to normality, and break the vicious cycle of pain that a break up brings. Lyrically raw, ridiculously honest, and with a chorus so stirring that it makes it seem like, despite everything, things will be fine, ‘Recovery’ is a solid opener, which gives a clear sign of what is to come.
The second song, ‘Losing Days,’ is a mandolin-driven exploration of the passage of time, and its effect, expressing a clear fear that time is passing too fast, things are changing too quickly, and too many days have been wasted as ‘greatness slips on by.’ Effectively, Turner is getting old, and doesn’t much like it. Next up is, for me, the record’s highlight, ‘The Way I Tend to Be,’ in which Turner’s lyrical prowess peaks. The final verse heartbreakingly captures the feelings of someone who has recently left a relationship: ‘And then I catch myself/Catching your scent on someone else/In a crowded space/And it takes me somewhere I cannot quite place.’ The song is similar to ‘Recovery’—a cry for the help of a lost lover who ‘could save me from the way I tend to be’.
The fourth track of the record is so incredibly raw and honest that the only way it can be summed up is through its first verse: ‘Just give me one fine day of plain sailing weather/And I can fuck up anything, anything/It was a wonderful life when we were together/And now I've fucked up every little goddamn thing.’ Simply stunning.
Next is ‘Good & Gone,’ a dig at society’s ‘grass is greener on the other side’ mentality, perhaps: ‘Fuck you Hollywood…Sometimes the things you need are right back where you started’ – a fragile Frank still offering advice to his legions of fans. ‘Tell Tale Signs’ follows, and is the most personal Turner song I have ever heard, concerning the destructive power of love and infatuation, and the hold that someone can still have over you after many years: ‘God dammit Amy, we're not kids anymore/ You can't just keep waltzing out of my life/Leaving clothes on my bedroom floor…You kind of remind me of scars on my arms that I made when I was a kid/ With a disassembled disposable razor I stole from my dad/ When I thought that suffering was something profound/ That weighed down on wise heads/ And not just something to be avoided/Something normal people dread.’
Incredible, poetic imagery.
Tape Deck Heart’s next song is ‘Four Simple Words’, a song that’s probably the most upbeat of the whole record. This is a song that’s very much rooted in nostalgia. Turner yearns for the simplicity of punk rock, completely free of pretension: ‘Is anyone else sick of the music/ Churned out by lacklustre scenesters from Shoreditch?/ Oh it's all sex drugs and sins, like they're extras from Skins/ But it's OK because they don't really mean it.’
The simplicity he longs for is encapsulated by the chorus: ‘I want to dance, I want to dance/ I want lust and love and a smattering of romance/ But I'm no good at dancing, yet I have to do something/ Tonight I'm going to play it straight, I'm going to take my chance, I want to dance.’
‘Polaroid Picture’ is a song about change, and losing touch with friends: ‘So in the stillness of the moment make sure you take a polaroid picture/ And keep it with you forever/ To remind yourself that everything changes/ But there was this one time, there was this one time, when things were OK.’ This should serve as a clear reminder to us all, not to take things for granted, and to value our memories.
‘Anymore’ is Turner’s heartbreakingly honest message to a former lover: ‘I can't do this anymore, oh you know I did my best/ Oh my darling/ I don't love you anymore.’ ‘Oh Brother’ is a song about missing an old friend, and the way in which time and change can get in the way. ‘Time it will change us but don't you forget/ You are the only brother I've got/ I'll see you when I see you.’ This defiance against the power of time seems to have been brewing throughout the record, and brings a welcome sense of optimism.
The final track on the album is ‘Broken Piano,’ a song entirely different to anything that Turner’s produced before. It has been compared by many to a Coldplay song, but don’t let that put you off—it’s a resigned message to a lost lover: ‘So I sat down in my sadness, beneath your window/ And I played sad songs on the minor keys of a broken piano/ A sinner amongst saved men on the banks of the muddy Thames…But as I stroked those broken keys/You did not join in harmony.’ Poetry.
Break ups and change aren’t the only recurring subjects within this album—tattoos and punk music are key themes throughout, as they’re a welcome constant in an ever-changing world that Turner seems to be struggling with, or even against. They become his ‘happy places,’ if you will, which bring comfort not just to his life, but to a record that, without these nods to the things that Frank loves, could be construed as overly negative.
In my very biased opinion, Turner finds the balance between honesty, despair, and optimism perfectly, in this superb album.