Monday, 13 May 2013

#100: Frank Turner - Tape Deck Heart

Frank Turner is a man whom divides opinion. As a musician, his place as front-man of the seminal UK hardcore band Million Dead cemented him in the hearts and minds of punks globally. Since the band's dissolution however, he's both won over the naysayers and alienated a handful of those who held him in such high regard previously. In one fell acoustic swoop, Turner has gone from politically charged mouthpiece to folk-punk troubadour and though his ideologies may well have changed, the fact remains that his music still crackles and sparks with a punk aesthetic that he will never truly be able to shake. Gone, however, is the face-melting evisceration and overt politicisation of his previous band's efforts and in their stead is a charmingly candid insight in to Turner's world. Now with Tape Deck Heart, his fifth studio album, Frank carries on in much the same manner as previous effort England Keep My Bones, with both albums narratives seemingly moving away from that of his earlier releases, now upholding a higher degree of introspection than before.

The first track on Tape Deck Heart is also the first single to be taken from the album 'Recovery'. It's pretty standard Turner fare, and nothing to shout about, however those expecting something similar to 'Peggy Sang the Blues' won't be disappointed whilst it eases newcomers nicely in to Turner's blend of paradoxically upbeat, self-deprecating tendencies. However while it is very much business as usual, Tape Deck Heart is quite easily also the most removed of Turner's releases; it couldn't be further from the likes of 'Back in the Day' or 'Photosynthesis' but that isn't strictly a bad thing. While the 'classics' still go down a treat live, hearing the instrumentation at Turner's disposal expand album by album has been a treat, and it's certainly the fullest and most diverse it's ever been here. From the off-kilter keys in 'Good & Gone' to the woodwind and strings of 'Oh Brother' it's without a doubt Turner's most adventurous foray yet with 'Broken Piano' particularly sounding more like a Death Cab For Cutie or Postal Service, indeed, some especially effective drums on the latter half of the song serve only to add to the song's overall impact whilst the guitar provides a spatiality never-before exhibited by Turner.

'Plain Sailing Weather' is one of the particular highlights of the album. Coming early on it's particularly indicative of earlier Turner releases; a welcome nod to the fans who have been there since album one or two. Having had the pleasure of hearing this song live late last year, it's safe to say that it's explosive chorus goes down fantastically and really is turner at his pessimistic best. Another song he previewed live is the candid 'Anymore'. Understated production here allows the guitar to take a back seat in favour of a vocal track really conveys the candidness lyricism. The song also features a line which is sure to adorn the tattoo sleeves of Turner's devout fans for years to come, “I'm not drinking any more/But I'm not drinking any less” pretty much sums up at least one aspect of Turner's penmanship. Conversely, 'We Shall Not Overcome' is an upbeat and optimistic affair that turns the table on some of Turner's more morose numbers. Unfortunately though this is only featured on the deluxe edition of Tape Deck Heart which includes half as many songs again as the album itself. While these tracks aren't intrinsic to the album overall quality, the inclusion of them, Turner has said, is to allow fans experience everything that went in to the album, whilst the standard release is “the concise version”. These tracks are nothing out of the ordinary or exceptional, however 'Tattoos' and 'Time Machine' (the only non-acoustic bonus track) are worth seeking out online.

As an album Tape Deck Heart couldn't have been concieved by anyone other than Frank Turner. There's a perfect mix of optimism, self-deprecation,narrative analogies and everything else that makes a Turner record what it is. That said however it isn't his strongest release to date, but there are certainly several songs included that will almost definitely find themselves included on the inevitable Greatest Hits. Newer fans of Turner will almost certainly relish in the accessibility of the album, while older fans might well sour at the prospecting of having heard it all before. There's certainly no boundaries being broken (apart from the inclusion of instruments new to Turner's repertoire) but that being said his music hasn't been about breaking boundaries for a long time. Instead Frank Turner's found a niche in folk-punk and will continue to reside over it for a long time to come.