Tuesday, May 07, 2013

MUSIC: Frank Turner shows his scars on 'Tape Deck Heart'

It seems that Frank Turner is feeling a little run-down these days.

Not that you’d know from his music -- his explosion of folk-punk and salty balladry is as fresh and expressive as ever. But on his new album “Tape Deck Heart” (Interscope), his lyrics are rife with allusions to personal scars both emotional and literal, a cocktail of frustration, desperation and scorching defiance that makes for one of his most pungent collections to date.

The rough-and-tumble odes to love and country on Turner’s last disc, 2011’s “England Keep My Bones,” seemed almost regal in comparison to the loud but downtrodden laments on "Tape Deck Heart.” “I’ve been dipping in my darkness for serotonin boosters, cider and some kind of smelling salts,” shouts the emotionally ailing narrator of “Recovery,” and it’s the winding trip down the “long road out to recovery from here” that provides the album’s backbone.

Turner’s always at his best when marrying punk sensibility with folk melodies, and these tracks are no exception. On “Four Simple Words,” the album’s nod to rock ’n’ roll salvation, music hall piano gives way to full-out punk frenzy as he dismisses fair-weather rock fans: “If the hipsters move on why should I give a f--?” he asks, and who can argue?

In fact, there seems to be a new resignation in the profanity of “Tape Deck Heart”: “Plain Sailing Weather” is another driving shouter in which Turner simultaneously brags and laments his ability to “f-- up anything,” and the F-bombs also fly in the folky lost-opportunity ballad “Good & Gone,” landing squarely on Hollywood (and, oddly, Motley Crue) for promoting false expectations among dreamers.

Turner’s ire and melancholy is mostly reserved, though, for the women, past and present, who’ve abandoned him, let him down or otherwise slipped out the back: the nameless girl of “The Way I Tend To Be” whose perfume he detects in a crowded space; Amy on “Tell Tale Signs,” who’s taken to task for the scars she’s left and for refusing to grow up; his fellow “sinking ship” on the wistful “Anymore,” whom he’s finally gotten the nerve to tell how he doesn’t feel.

All of this makes “Tape Deck Heart” sound like a downer, and it does have its tough moments. But something about Turner’s spirited delivery and anthemic arrangements pushes it, finally, into the realm of the hopeful.

To paraphrase one of his earlier songs, Turner still believes in the healing power of rock ’n’ roll, old friends and even true love, if you’re lucky enough to track it down. Being able to follow him on his rough and rambling search for it is a tonic in and of itself.

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