Album Review: Tape Deck Heart (Frank Turner)

Tape Deck Heart was released in 2013, a couple of years after I’d heard Frank Turner on a mix CD from someone who passed on a second date with me, saying he’d realized he wasn’t really over his ex. (The song, by the way, was “Worse Things Happen at Sea”, off of Turner’s debut album Sleep Is for the Week, which I haven’t heard yet. And it’s an anthem for people who aren’t really over an ex.) I’m not sure how I would have reacted to Tape Deck Heart if I’d heard it when it was first released, because that was the year in which I got married and my confidence in my relationship abilities was running high. Tape Deck Heart is not an album for celebration; it’s an album for regrets. The most frequently-repeated motif of the album (and there are several images that repeat, like tattoos, the idea of being “broken”, the state of being lost at sea) is scars, healed but visible to other people. To get scars, you have to get damaged, “something normal people dread.” And the scars become a materialization of regret.

While I do not regret my marriage, at this point I can fully understand Turner’s resent of the cultural idealization of relationships. “Amelie lied to me, this was supposed to be easy,” he grumbles. But there is a significant difference in perspective from disputes within a marriage that have to be tabled because the dishes need to be done or someone needs to go to work, and disputes in a courting relationship that result in the partners turning away, instead of toward, each other – the kind of disputes diagrammed in track after track of Tape Deck Heart. And I suppose I felt more than a little schadenfreude as I listened to Turner going through what I remembered from my late twenties, before I made a commitment of the caliber that I have now.

Tape Deck Heart is probably the best album I’ve ever heard for its particular stage in the life cycle of a First Worlder: the point at which you’ve been an adult long enough to acquire a history and therefore scars, but not long enough to have made your peace with them. The album is turbulent, raucous, unable to decide whether it wants to be poetry or prose. It’s also great, honest, intense, and raw.

Singing from the patched up, patchwork, taped-up, tape deck heart.
Singing from the patched up, patchwork, taped-up, tape deck heart.

Press “PLAY” for:

  • “The Way I Tend to Be” – my favorite track on the album. Expressing longing in a major key isn’t easy.
  • “Tell Tale Signs” – demonstrates how using a person’s name in a song can make it more powerful. Also, begs the question of whether the narrator’s portrayal of himself as having learned from mistakes while the woman he is singing to cannot learn is realistic.
  • “Polaroid Picture” – although I have no idea what Turner’s stance on Buddhism is, I think there is a lot of dharma in this song. Reading its lyrics in the CD booklet brought tears to my eyes.

Consider “FFWD” for:

  • “Four Simple Words” – the album’s most punk sound, which of course makes a lot of the lyrics harder to understand. I suppose if you like punk over rock or folk (the other influence strands), this will sound great to you.
  • “Broken Piano” – Turner has no reluctance to get bombastic, and for most of the album his volume choices are understandable. But given its lyrical content, I really wanted something a little more understated for “Broken Piano”. The most dramatic drum line on the album kind of got wasted.

In short, I recommend Tape Deck Heart to anyone who can identify with its narrator: a young man who loves punk and tattoos, who is tired of looking for what Roger Daltrey once called “that free ride to ‘me’“, inner peace found in one’s reflection in a lover’s gaze – but who has no other solution for the restless yearning, and so continues to look there. Don’t bother with Tape Deck Heart if you don’t like your music loud or don’t enjoy British accents and references to London geography; but if you’re ready to hear someone cheeky speak from the bottom of their spirit, track down a copy. It’s worth your time.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5.