Review Summary: Frank Turner would appear to be equal parts shower and grower
Recently, and for reasons unbeknown to me, I have been asked the question "are you a grower or a shower"" an awful lot, in relation to penile dimensions. I think I either need new friends or to stop revealing myself quite as much. Either way, my point is that saying one answer is to imply that you are somehow lacking in the other; a concept that I reckon also applies to music. Whilst music with hooks and catchy lyrics may well hold attention in the short-term, it easily develops into a repetitive and banal listening experience in the long run. Conversely, music that is only appreciated after several listens is unlikely to hold much attention within our modern, ADHD-plagued musical conveyor belt of prepubescent divas and dickheads. I am aware that this is all common sense, but it is rare album that truly has that combination of an initial spark of originality, combined with deeper subtle layers that can be aurally scratched away over the weeks and months following that first press of the play button.
This is why Frank Turner
's latest album Tape Deck Heart
is a resounding success, even if his progression from hardcore and punky folk to a more stadium and radio-friendly sound may turn some long time fans off at first impression. The album kicks off with a microcosm of that progression, with Turner's familiar vocals and simple strummed chords commencing "Recovery", before the song explodes into a cacophony of euphoric piano and drums as his backing band The Sleeping Souls lay down a statement of intent. This is as much their record as it is Turner's, with a bigger focus on a full band sound, complete with gang vocals (see "Polaroid Picture") and more complex instrumentation than we are used to with Turner's previous work. Having said that, some of the most powerful moments on this album are when roots are revisited, with "Anymore" standing out as Turner rationalises his decision to leave an anonymous lover. There are no Sleeping Souls, just one man and his guitar, and the song is all the more sincere and moving for it.
Returning to my initial analogy, show and grow are present in equal measure here. One of the album's highlights (and as a video is currently being filmed for it, a likely future single) "The Way I Tend To Be" consists of an addictive chord structure that, when combined with fantastic chorus vocals, results in one of the "showiest" tracks Turner has created. Equally though, the following track "Plain Sailing Weather" failed to grab my attention at first listen. Take these pre-chorus lyrics for instance:
The problem with falling in love in late bars,
Is that there's always more nights, there's always more bars.
The problem with showing your lover your scars
Is that everybody's lover is covered in scars
I must admit I wasn't the biggest fan of those lines on first listen, they lack the poetic nuance that usually permeates Turner's songs. However each and every subsequent time I listen to the song I find something different to love about it; from the delightful piano during the bridge to the increasingly passionate lyrical delivery towards the song's conclusion. It grew on me, and continues to do so. I must just highlight as well that the lyrics above are misrepresentative of the general content of the album, they are but the smallest of blips. Turner's lyrical prowess has not faded with time, and the sincerest messages within his songs are constantly bolstered by his distinctive and enthusiastic delivery. There is a notable lack of political content here, with the songs focusing instead on relationships past and present, and the somewhat futile attempts at grappling with the associated plethora of emotions.
Now that even the "shower" tracks are turning into "growers" for me, Tape Deck Heart
has almost become that perfect beast; a maelstrom of songs that seem both familiar and constantly fresh on repeated listens. Frank Turner has done a hell of a job to keep his individual sound accessible without succumbing to the typical pitfalls of those artists who hope to tread that fine line between recognition and selling out. If he manages to maintain the sincerity and passion found in these songs whilst keeping himself grounded (and the way he acts, from his attitude during live shows to replying personally to emails, I have no doubt he will) this modern-day troubadour is likely to be found showing his growers to crowds around the world for years to come.