Release Date: Apr 23, 2013
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
The onetime singer of U.K. hardcore band Million Dead, Frank Turner is a grown-ass Englishman who turns out highly quotable, sometimes deliriously catchy rants about life after punk. His fifth LP blooms with crisply enunciated patter about bandmate bromances and childhood memories of cutting himself, with liberal squirts of acid: "Fuck you, Mötley Crüe, for charming us with access and with excess," he croons sweetly in "Good & Gone," a tune so pretty you can hear the dimples.
Here’s the thing about Frank Turner: Love, Ire, & Song is not his best album. It’s not even his second best. So it irks me a little bit when people say that it’s so much better than everything else he’s done when the albums that came after have continually refined that sound. Now, I will grant you that Poetry of the Deed was not a worthy follow-up to Love, Ire, & Song.
Frank TurnerTape Deck Heart(Xtra Mile/Interscope)Rating: 4 out of 5 stars Wow, Frank Turner is one bummed-out dude. Literally writhing in misery, as he conveys in detail on Tape Deck Heart, the kind of album that doesn’t just tell us what it feels like to have your heart cut out, it practically puts us on the operating table during the surgery – which, of course, happens before the anesthesia kicks in. And he does it so well, we willingly bleed right along with him.
Last autumn, Frank Turner let NME into the suburban Los Angeles studio where he was laying down his fifth solo album. “Without going into details, it’s kind of ended up being a break-up record,” he told us at Eldorado Recording Studio of the follow-up to 2011’s reflectively patriotic ‘England Keep My Bones’. “It’s a record about ‘What do you do when something that was supposed to be perfect comes to its natural end?'” The steadfastly English songsman might not have gone into the gory minutiae of said relationship breakdown then, but ‘Tape Deck Heart’ is all about the heart-wrenching details.
I heard on the radio that one out of every six baby boomers has a tattoo. The most recent trend in the skin trade is granny tats, women over 60 years old (such as Susan Sarandon) getting their first tattoo. Apparently, this is so they can fit in better at the nursing home; or because it won’t fade or cause regret when they get older. Whatever.
Frank Turner has followed a unique trajectory, from the playing fields of Eton via hardcore punk with Million Dead to political arena-filling indie-folk. However, while his libertarian worldview has become controversial and his 2006 song Thatcher Fucked the Kids topical, his fifth album finds him taking a more personal sidestep, with songs about romantic disasters, mortality, lonely days and crazy nights. The bar is set by opener Recovery, a post-break-up, going-on-a-bender guitar/piano basher replete with hurtling wordplay ("I've been dipping in my darkness for serotonin boosters, cider and some kind of smelling salts").
Frank Turner records fall into one of two categories; solid front-to-back albums full of memorable sing-alongs and sharp-witted songwriting (2008's career high-point Love Ire & Song, 2011's England Keep My Bones) or a few incredible singles surrounded by, for lack of a more polite word, filler (2009's Poetry of the Deed. ) Unfortunately, Tape Deck Heart, the prolific British singer-songwriter's latest offering leans slightly more to the latter category. There's nothing here that is overtly unenjoyable, but some songs are noticeably better than others.
His fifth studio effort since reinventing himself as a fiery, civic-minded folksinger, Tape Deck Heart finds the former frontman for hardcore punk rockers Million Dead dialing back the political fervor and unleashing a revelatory set of breakup songs, nostalgic ballads, and hedonistic pub rockers that falls somewhere between the wounded blue-collar humor of Billy Bragg and the benevolent swagger of Against Me! Turner's big expressive voice and gift for everyman poetry loom large over the proceedings, but there's a newfound musical effusiveness at play here as well, due in part to some tastefully simple yet sharp production from Rich Costey (Muse, Weezer, Rage Against the Machine). The more contemplative pieces like "Good & Gone," "The Fisher King Blues," and the evocative closer "Broken Piano," all of which balance humor and heartache with remarkable precision, may initially put off fans just looking for the usual Saturday night singalongs, but Turner is such a likable narrator that it's hard not to root for him, even at his most wrecked. Sleek, stylish, yet imbued with the peeling paint and tattered show flyer patina of punk, songs like the somber yet defiant "Recovery," the rousing and sentimental "Oh Brother," and the mosh pit-ready "Four Simple Words," the latter of which, with its rowdy and robust chorus of "I want to dance/I want lust and love and a smattering of romance," seems destined for either an opening or closing slot on the set list for years to come, maintain the camaraderie of the genre while jettisoning its more nihilistic aspects, resulting in what feels more like a brotherly headlock than a combat boot to the noggin.
Whether you like him or not, you can’t knock Frank Turner’s work ethic. Rising from the ashes of Million Dead and playing gigs for years way below the toilet circuit, his ascent to playing the Olympic opening ceremony and headlining Wembley Arena has actually been a remarkably subtle transition considering his achievements - there was no sudden breakthrough or overnight success, just a steady, efficient rise bolstered by Turner’s own determination and uncompromising attitude to his music. It is this uncompromising ethos that has gained him such a fanatical following and notable success.
Frank Turner, who once sang “music, it’s my substitute for love” (on “Substitute,” from 2008’s Love Ire & Song), now turns to music as not only his escape from the tribulations and fallout from heartbreak, but as a type of therapy session. On his fifth album, Turner expands on the brusque, urgent poetry he’d adopted from punk rock, turning to a style more in line with the contemporary folk-rock of Josh Ritter or Glen Hansard: candid, exposed and somber. This well-worn ground is new territory for Turner, and though he handles it his own way, it’s stepping away from the enthusiastic, invigorating and inspiring niche he’s carved out near the mantle occupied by the late, revered Joe Strummer and the restless elder statesman Billy Bragg.
Frank Turner is in reflective mood. Losing Days, complete with the mandolin from REM‘s Losing My Religion, sings of those days that once lasted a lifetime now lost “in the blinking of an eye”. Good And Gone puts the blame for romanticising excess at the door of Motley Crüe, of all people. And Polaroid Picture mourns the closure of the London Astoria to make way for Crossrail, and bemoans new singalongs in “rooms we don’t know on the other side of the city”.
Old Etonian-turned-punk-frontman-turned-acoustic-troubadour Frank Turner hit the jackpot with 2011's England Keep My Bones, and was rewarded with a slot at the Olympics opening ceremony. Sensibly, the follow-up doesn't radically tinker with the winning formula. The songs are rooted in English folk, only with anthemic, stadium-friendly choruses neatly woven in, and lyrics are generally sharply pointed, whether addressing the personal or the political (although Mötley Crüe seem an oddly anachronistic target for his ire).
Frank Turner’s fifth album is also his major-label debut, but don’t let that scare you: Tape Deck Heart is a beautiful, vital representation of the journey the singer/songwriter has spent in the past seven years as a solo artist, plying heartbreakingly honest lyrics driven by sharp musicianship. Words like “folk” and “punk” no longer apply to him; one can simply sum his music up by saying it’s fantastic. Labels need not apply.
For rock fans in the UK Frank Turner is quite the opinion splitter. For every fervent supporter who cites him as a man who through the sheer force of hard work has clambered the greasy pole to the point where he can headline the nations stadia there seems to be a critic vociferously shouting that he never was punk, never will be and is, essentially, a Radio 2-friendly charlatan with a questionable line in politics. No doubt part of Turner’s rise to prominence is the convenient Angry Young Rocker From Million Dead to Acoustic Storyteller narrative arch which has proved such a convenient hook for the mainstream press to hang their hats on.