Monday, November 27, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1076: Frank Turner

Another long day but I’m home now, and it feels good. I could watch the end of the football game, but instead I’m going to write this blog while I’ve still got some creative energy in the tank.

Disc 1076 is…Tape Deck Heart
Artist: Frank Turner

Year of Release: 2013

What’s up with the Cover? An artist’s literal interpretation of a tape deck heart. This looks a lot like a tattoo design, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Frank has this tattooed on him somewhere. As album covers go, this is top notch, except of course for Tipper Gore’s parental advisory, wrecking the symmetry of the art all so that the moms of America will know that Frank says “fuck” from time to time on the album.

How I Came To Know It: I came relatively late to Frank Turner, with “Tape Deck Heart” being the first album that I heard. I believe my friend Casey played a couple of songs off of here for me and I was hooked.

How It Stacks Up:  I have six Frank Turner albums. Of those six, “Tape Deck Heart” comes in at #1.

Ratings: 5 stars

Frank Turner albums don’t just speak to your soul; they whisper comforting words to it to let you know everything is going to work out. “Tape Deck Heart” has Frank working his usual magic, reinforced with some of his strongest songwriting and arrangements that are crisp and confident.

No one writes an inspirational anthem like Frank Turner. These are songs that empower you and demand you sing along, lifting you up on their powerful messages of reflection, rebellion and redemption. Unlike so many radio friendly pop songs that try to do the same, Frank’s brand of inspiration is never giddy and vacuous or vague. These anthems are inspirational because they represent confronting and overcoming real issues, and real challenges.

Depression, lost love, and substance abuse all feature prominently and you get the distinct impression that Frank sings what he knows. On “Tell Tale Signs” he compares the memory of a damaging relationship with cutting and self-harm. It is a raw and emotionally real song from its stark opening of “God damn it, Amy/we’re not kids anymore” through Frank’s comparison of the memory of the girl he knew, described as “a beautiful butterfly burned with a branding iron.” The memory of her is like the scars on his arms, always there, sometimes painful and strangely comforting.

Turner’s willingness to confront his fears creates an instant rapport in the listener. On “Plain Sailing Weather” he sings “give me one fine day of plain sailing weather and I can fuck up anything.” It is a relatable moment for anyone who ever had a dumb moment and is in the middle of slamming their head into their palm. You may not have Frank’s specific demons, but you’ve got some kind of demons, and it is just nice to hear someone sing so openly about theirs.

For all the sadness, at his heart Turner is an optimist and understands that even bad memories serve a useful purpose. “Recovery” is a song about screwing up a relationship, but it is also a lesson on how to grow and learn from loss. “The Way I Tend To Be” is Turner admitting he can be a schmuck, but how it makes him appreciate a love that “can save me from the way I tend to be”.

Frank Turner albums are often about the lyrics and message, and he wisely keeps the melodies basic so you can focus on them. The backdrop is a smartly organized blend of pop, folk and punk. “Tape Deck Heart” has a bit more production than earlier records, but Turner wisely leaves lots of room for the songs to breathe, punctuating his four minute jolts of wisdom with a flourish of piano or mandolin as the occasion demands.

And of all Turner’s albums, “Tape Deck Heart” has songs that are the most consistently catchy. Listening to this record I can’t understand why he isn’t more famous. Maybe people just like their pop with a little less pain.

My only issue with this album is that it is too long, clocking in with 16 songs and 62 minutes, including four ‘bonus’ tracks. I’d be tempted to cut those four songs, but they are some of the best on the album. “We Shall Not Overcome” has a chorus that feels like the theme song of my life:

“The bands I like they don’t sell too many records
And the girls I like they don’t kiss too many boys
And the books I read will never be bestsellers
Yeah, but come on fellas at least we made our choice.”

Turner understands that his army of counter-culture iconoclasts need a sense of belonging too –often achieved when standing united and proud behind our obscure bands and books.

Mostly though, Frank is about accepting that bad things happen to good people, but the human spirit has an incredible propensity to overcome. The lessons we learn along the way are part of the celebration, even if they hurt at the time. On tattoos he sings “if we had the luck to live our lives a second time through/we’d be sure to get the same tattoos”.

Despite all this excellence I was going to downgrade Frank to four stars for breaking my 14 song rule. Then I read this quote on the Wikipedia entry for the album:

“Track listing an album is a fine art, and usually a pretty agonising process. I’m glad I've had the opportunity to do the extended version for this one – all these songs belong together. That said, I think an album is a piece of art in its own right and can be too long, so it’s worth making the twelve-track definitive version. Choosing what makes it and what doesn’t is agonising, though.”

Damn you, Frank, you managed to be unflinchingly honesty about even your decision to put too many songs on the album. I just can’t stay mad at you over it when you put it like that. Five stars it is, given with love from the depths of my compact disc heart.

Best tracks: All tracks

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