Frank Turner – [Album]

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Anyone familiar with the history of musicians who try to make the transition from a punk label (like Epitaph or Fat Wreck Chords, for example) to a major conglomerate will understand why both Frank Turner's fans and the singer's critics are looking so awfully hard at Tape Deck Heart – his fifth album, but first for Interscope – and why they're watching every move that gets made around the record. Historically, the albums that punk acts release after they sign to a major label tend to fall into one of only two categories: either they're of such breathtaking quality that everyone understands why the artist is able to ascend to an all new and incredible level of popularity (such was true of Nirvana, and was true of Rise Against when they first jumped to Geffen and released Siren Song Of The Counter Culture in 2004), or they stumble and never really re-discover their comfort zone again under they slink back down to the mid-level they previously occupied (see Against Me!, Bad Religion between 1996 and 2000 or Mudhoney's tenure at Reprise from 1992 to 1999 – for example). It's a very precarious position to be in and, while the possibility that a band's jump to a larger home and larger potential audience is a very attractive one for the band and its members, it could prove to be disastrous if it goes just the wrong way. That is why Frank Turner's fans are watching Tape Deck Heart so closely; they want to see if the singer will be able to pull off shining on “the next level” after astounding them with Poetry Of The Dead and England Keep My Bones. They'll want to know if the singer will find/feel any growing pains and if they'll end up hobbling him.

Turner's fans will be waiting with fingers crossed – hoping that Turner will come through, even as “Recovery” opens with little more than the singer's voice and an acoustic guitar. The words (“And you know your life is heading in a questionable direction/ When you're up for days with with strangers and you can't remember anything except/ the way you sounded when you told me/ you didn't know what I should do.”) are quickly and nervously delivered – it's not at all how fans expect to hear Frank Turner deliver lyrics and they'll be choking as they wonder how it will turn out until the drums kick in, the band picks up and and you can almost hear the singer grin when he belts out, “It's a long road up to recovery from here, a long way back to the light/ A long way up to recovery from here, a long way to making it right.”

You cheeky fucker, Frank. You had us nervous for a minute.

After Turner and his band lock into gear, Tape Deck Heart just runs like a well-oiled machine – but the real thrills to be found in Tape Deck Heart's run-time are the curve balls that the singer throws out which don't exactly fly true to any pop, punk or folk paradigm, but do strike an awesome chord. Simply said, there's no question that, when he wants to show listeners that the structures set down by Poetry Of The Deed  and England Keep My Bones still hold for him (see  songs like “Losing Days,” “The Way I Tend To Be,” “Polaroid Picture” and “Oh Brother” for the story so far), listeners will find that the brightest and most exciting sparks of fascination fly off of songs like “Plain Sailing Weather,” “Tell Tale Signs,” “Anymore” and “Broken Piano,” where Turner dials back the bravado and taps into an almost impossibly candid intimacy. The words in each of those songs say it all; in “Plain Sailing Weather,” Turner is appears at his most self-critical (“Give me one fine day of plain sailing weather and I can fuck up anything, anything”) as he quietly tries to screw up the courage to tell a woman how he feels, while he impotently tries to tell a girl (perhaps the same one?) that she has to either take him as he is or leave him forever in “Tell Tale Signs” (scan “Goddamn it Amy, we're not kids anymore/ You can't just keep waltzing out of my life/ Leaving clothes on my bedroom floor/  Like nothing really matters, like pain doesn't hurt/ You should be more to me by now than just heartbreak in a short skirt”). Those turns are great, but very possibly the most intimate song in this record's running is “Anymore,” where the production of the song is so tight that it's actually possible to hear Frank Turner's tongue sand his teeth down a little when he sorrowfully tells a woman he doesn't love her anymore. All the fantastical rock bombast elsewhere on Tape Deck Heart pales in comparison to that.

By the time listeners finally make their way through to the end of “Broken Piano,” they'll find that they feel a little like Frank Turner has worked them over with the motions that Tape Deck Heart has made, but they'll still be up to do it again in a heartbeat because the music really is just that good. The jump to a major label may have been a perilous one for other, less savvy songwriters, but Tape Deck Heart proves that Frank Turner hasn't finished his growth arc yet; this is good, but it feels like the singer's star is destined to only get brighter.



Tape Deck Heart
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .


Frank Turner – [Album]

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Over the last ten years, the notion that being glib is the height of biting sarcasm and criticism has spread like a virus, been refined and finally honed to a flawless edge before being sent out to hack down the previous crop of next big things suddenly and brutally. The problem with such slash and burn tactics is that there just aren't that many bands coming up that are particularly good at it; because they all pass through so quickly and utilize so many  of the same ideas and sounds, they have all the clarity and nuance of tenth or twelfth generation carbon copies; they're distinguishable only by their faded edges and imperfections. The mill began turning shortly after NoFX and Guttermouth set the precedents for biting – and bitingly funny – commentary but, as exemplified by the craven and style-conscious likes of Fall Out Boy and Panic At The Disco, the currency of crass criticism has been devalued to penny stock levels. Now, it's not uncommon to notice that lyrics sheets simply resemble a composite assemblage of one-liners and mishandled punchlines.

It all sounds very bleak, but the upside to such a static landscape is that when a genuine original comes along, it stands out large as life and plain as day – and all the toasted carbon copies are forgotten that fast' it is real, and anyone can recognize it.

Such is the beauty of Frank Turner and his second album this year for Epitaph (while release in the UK in 2008, Love Ire & Song hit the shores of North America earlier this year), Poetry Of The Deed. From note one of “Live Fast, Die Old,” – with its stomping drums, scorching but lean guitars and hammered, single-note piano – both song and singer stand in total defiance of pop and politically-bent rock while also playing to those establishments  with all the faith and heart of a true believer, but a view and lyrical sensibility that goes straight against the established hearts of both and thus taking the piss out of all the other self-important pop and rock stars on the charts. It's all right there in the first verse:
“I bought my soul back from the devil
and now I'm keeping it all to myself.
I'm checking myself out of the program
because I know what's best for my health….”

And then:
“You'd rather burn out than fade away?
Well why not both, I plan to stay…”

“I'm gonna live fast and I'm gonna die old.”

If that's not a message of intent, I don't know what is but, with such a powerful statement made, how could one hope to follow it?

As it turns out, “Live Fast, Die Old” is only the perfect beginning. Immediately thereafter, Turner steps up his game a little further with the empowering-by-way-of-sucker-punch sentiment of “Try This At Home: which begs everyone to pick up instruments and fill the world with as many voices as possible while getting some licks in on hero-worshiping fans with some Lydon-esque sibilance (“You could do so much better than some skinny, half-arsed cunt-rey singer”) as well as other ways both upfront and understated.

If such digs and smart-assed commentary were made from atop a five-star production with all the assistance the most expensive studio in the world had to offer, these songs probably wouldn't have the same impact as they do but, because Turner and his backing musicians have more grassroots to them than glam, the songs and performances of them seem that much more attainable and relatable to listeners – particularly punk rock audiences – which makes it that much easier for the singer to win hearts even when he's tipping sacred cows.

With the methodology in place, Turner sets to continuing his rootsy ripping and ribbing (imagine if Billy Bragg had a smart mouth to go with his quick tongue and political temperment and you're on the right track) of every unseemly power-that-be and vile personal indulgence that truly needs it. After the aforementioned establishment-baiting, the British government and monarchy go on the block in “Sons Of Liberty” (choice lyric: “So if ever a man should ask you for your business, or your name/ tell him to go fuck himself, tell his friends to do the same”) before Turner reveals a very candid look at his family life (“Faithful Son”) and lets his heart go out to those depressed souls he sees around him (“Richard Divine”) among others. Each one is captivating, because Turner voluntarily inhabits each scenario – no matter how dark – and invites listeners to do the same so they can understand the subtleties rather than cast their impressions from the inside out. That sort of interior involvement (rather than callous outside observation or contrived simpiness for a doomed figure) is very cathartic for listeners and compliments the musical treatment of the matter perfectly; while obviously judgmental and outspoken, Turner and his band offer no flash, no dazzle and no critique from the comfy confines of a designer wardrobe, only the very real impressions and heart of an honest, and unrepentant every-man. Being himself is the best thing Frank Turner could have done on Poetry In The Deed.



Poetry In The Deed
is out now. Buy it on Amazon .

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