Sound — 7
English folk-punk singer Frank Turner would die for an intro comparing him to some of the great men who took on the world with acoustic guitars. Unfortunately, the world he would be taking on has been largely receptive to his sing-song style and punishing tour schedule. Forever expanding his audience both on the road and in the studio, "Tape Deck Heart" is his fifth album in almost as many years, which isn't bad going for a cavaliering, get-in-the-van type. Somewhere in the middle of that catalogue he started to mythologize the road-worn troubadour (and himself by extension), filling his boots with self-satisfaction on 2011's "England Keep My Bones". Things are better on that front this time, at least this is a disarmingly honest lyrical effort as well as a competent musical one.
Folk and faintly punk in appearance but pop-rock in feel, the formula should be familiar to fans and newcomers alike. Frank introduces a basic idea on acoustic guitar, then the lyrical premise, then, as is now custom, his backing band kick in and underpin with twinkly piano and breezy percussion. Alarm bells should ring when "Recovery" gets things going with all the impact of a dry sponge, strutting merrily into nothing much, but the next two tracks nail that upbeat sound and the songs only diversify from there. Truth be told though, regardless of whether he's entirely solo ("Anymore") or sprinkled with overdubs ("Good & Gone"), Frank Turner is at his best singing softly into one ear, and the rabble-rousing moments with full band only feel authentic again because he's said the right things in the intimate moments.
Lyrics — 7
A lot of pretence has been wiped clean on this album, especially the guff about saving a slowly deteriorating world with traditional English values. Turner is not particularly astute on broad social or political issues, but he knows best when describing his own life and you can feel the pain in his words here: "Give me one fine day of plain sailing weather and I'll f--k up anything... I've f--cked up every single thing." We can only speculate on what it is but something or another has brought him crashing back down to earth and plenty of what he says of his experience will resonate with the young and lost who follow his career most closely.
There's a sense of adventure in the way the guitar moves from loud to quiet, bright to dim, but the vocals don't follow those movements as closely as they used to. Most of Turner's roots in punk were ironed out when he stopped straining his voice and started processing it, and while the studio magic is invisible this time, a bellow or two might have brought out the aggression with more distinction.
Overall Impression — 7
It's hard to criticise "Tape Deck Heart" without getting into the fundamentals of Frank Turner's sound, which has proven to be popular and versatile in equal measure. He certainly does it better here than he has since he first made his name a few years ago, but somehow it stops just before you feel the payoff of a really good record. Perhaps he's lost a bit of the exciting quality that came with being a relative unknown, but if we're talking about Frank Turner as the serious, credible artist that he wants to be, consider this business resumed.