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
. A lot of growing pains were evident on that record; Frank tried a lot of new things and succeeded at most of them, but some of the experiments didn’t work out so well (“Richard Divine,” anyone"). Furthermore, it was his first album recorded in full collaboration with The Sleeping Souls, and they were clearly still finding the rhythm as a band. But England Keep My Bones
was everything Poetry
should have been, and that’s because
of The Sleeping Souls. People who dismiss his last few albums because they think his music only works as a solo act are missing out on some of the most dynamic rock music being made currently.
Tape Deck Heart
isn’t as immediate as England Keep My Bones
, but it’s just as good (and might even be better, although I haven’t decided for sure yet). This is much more of a traditional rock record than anything else Frank has done, and that’s a good thing because it means that it’s probably the most consistent album he’s made. I can’t emphasize enough just how good The Sleeping Souls have become as a band. Frank is as great as he’s ever been, but his band makes this record. “Four Simple Words” may seem like just a silly, light-hearted song about wanting to dance, but the ascending piano line in the chorus, the guitar solo, and the vibrant drums elevate it to a fantastic rock song with a “Bohemian Rhapsody”-esque structure. The lyrics speak toward everything Frank’s music has always been about
: melting away the facades and pretensions until all that remains is good music.
As Frank’s star has continued to rise, he’s taken influence from loftier sources. “Four Simple Words,” as mentioned, takes a page out of Queen’s songwriting book. “Losing Days” reminds me a lot of REM. But interestingly (and thrillingly, for me), the biggest similarity I hear to this album is Counting Crows, a rock band with a discography full of genius songs that often gets overlooked because of their popularity (which is not dissimilar to some of the backlash to Frank’s last few albums). “The Way I Tend To Be” is the biggest example, with memorable drums and unconventional vocal inflections (listen to the way Frank draws out the word “remember” in the chorus, which sounds a little like something Adam Duritz would do). It’s also got a narrative swing to it that makes for one of Frank’s best lyrical achievements; the bridge in particular is amazing, as Frank sings, “Love is about all the changes you make and not just three small words.” In fact, Frank’s storytelling tendencies are in full display on Tape Deck Heart
; listen to “The Fisher King Blues” and especially “Broken Piano” to hear him guide songs to stunning conclusions through his words.
Despite any influences I can discern, this album is still vintage Frank Turner, which is especially clear in a song like “Anymore”: a man and his guitar, singing about how he doesn’t love somebody anymore and about how disconcertingly easy it is to hurt someone when you’ve decided that’s what you need to do. There are some pretty standard criticisms lobbed Frank’s way these days – he’s too cheesy, he “pretends” to be punk, he’s too positive (whatever that means), he’s past his short-lived prime – and I’m sure people could come up with some halfway decent arguments to support those. But when I read stuff like that, honestly, I can’t help but be just a little bit sad because to me, Frank’s music is the truth, or as close to the truth as I’ve heard. Tape Deck Heart
is another amazing chapter in the bible – a little fuller in sound, a little more tinged with experience – but what never changes is that nobody sings more powerfully than Frank about the influence of regret, about the grip of the past, and about how often we make mistakes because we have nothing with which to communicate but broken instruments.