After acrimoniously falling out with Britain’s liberal left, it would be easy to read the deeply personal and defiantly apolitical Tape Deck Heart as Turner’s wearied retreat from a spiteful battleground. Equally, the more cynically inclined might arch an eyebrow at the notion of a former firebrand eschewing his outspoken edge in favour of a sound that sits comfortably alongside the UK’s other on trend troubadours (Noah And The Whale, Ben Howard, et al). However, both criticisms miss the point entirely: Tape Deck Heart is Frank Turner’s most open, intriguing, intelligent, and, ultimately, best album to date.
Ditching the grand prognostications and rose tinted nostalgia that overawed England Keep My Bones; Turner aims his rabble-rousing turn of phrase and unflinching pointedness inwards. The sweeping sentiments and flawed critiques that felt clumsy in the socio/political arena are perfect for capturing the one sided anguish of a broken hearted lover. Turner can be solipsist and caricature his ex-lover on “Tell Tale Signs” because when he cries “you should mean more to me now than heartache and a short skirt” you believe him intrinsically. The mix of vitriol and considered soul searching that permeates Tape Deck Heart thrives in the present tense. Frank might be imbalanced and occasionally irrational, but he’s all the more human for it. In other words: we’ve all been there bro.
Far from an album of po-faced laments, Tape Deck Heart is full of warm-hearted reflection. The sepia toned nostalgia Turner once employed to create a cloying vision of old Albion is now employed to capture snapshots of relationships and moments in a life well lived. “Recovery” and the spritely “Losing Days” are the building blocks of one of the great British romantic albums. Turner’s Tape Deck Heart might carry a host of scars and contusions, but his resilient chin-up tone reassures the listener that he’s all the better for it.
When Turner combines his folksy stomp with a well-chosen burst of post-hardcore bombast the results are irresistible. “Plain Sailing Weather” and the soon to be festival favourite “Four Simple Words” turn this personal experience communal. Turner’s anthemic turn of phrase remains in tact, and no one delivers a chest-thumping truism quite like Frank: “the problem with falling in love in late night bars, is that there’s always more nights, there’s always more bars”. It’s not all densely packed word play, Turner knows when to drop the multi-syllable assault and shout something as endearingly simple as “I want to dance”.
It’s not all plain sailing. Tape Deck Heart’s moribund conclusion might be suitably despairing, but Turner proves unpalatably successful at sounding turgid and uninspired. Then there are those moments where Frank’s hypocrisy is too brazen to be ignored. In his frustration he decries Hollywood for polluting our childhoods with false images of love and life – certainly a fair critique in isolation, but one that feels sanctimonious on an album that perpetuates the fallacy of the rock and roll lifestyle in all its unrepentant mythic glory. Still, a handful of jarring niggles and an underwhelming finale cannot derail Frank Turner’s finest achievement: an album of private suffering and collective catharsis.
Buy If: You want to hear Frank Turner turn heartache into a rabble rousing riot of a record.
Skip If: You’re after socio/political outrage and can’t stomach the weepy stuff.
Best Track: “Tell Tale Signs”
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