Surprisingly Personal Thoughts About Frank Turner’s “Tape Deck Heart”

When I started writing this post as the next instalment of my “review all Frank Turner albums before his next one comes out this spring” project, I had no idea that writing about these songs would lead to some heavy introspection on my part. 

“Tape Deck Heart” (TDH) from 2013 might have been the most personal album Frank had written up to that point. A “Breakup Album” as he sometimes called it. In the early days I tried to find out as much as possible about this guy who wrote those amazing lyrics, which I could relate to so much. I’ve also watched quite a few interviews where he talked about why he wrote this album from the point of view of the “bad guy”. Recalling this now and to think that 4+ years later he is writing songs like “There She Is” makes me quite happy for him to be honest. 

01. Recovery ★★★★☆ 
Well darling now I’m sinking, I’m as lost as lost can be
and I was hoping you could drag me up from down here towards my recovery

Woah! So many words per minute!  I remember Frank stating in one of the interviews that the producer (?) tried to talk him out of recording a song with so many words. I have no idea how Frank is not stumbling over those every once in a while. And when does he even take a breath? I like how this starts a bit slow and soft and then Bang! – sets the mood – music/tempo and topic wise – for the whole record. Some of the lyrics are quite dark, but I guess that’s real life for you after you’ve messed up a relationship. I like that even though there are a lot of words and no clear rhyme scheme or melody pattern (each verse sounds a bit unique) the words still flows beautifully rhythymically.

02. Losing Days ★★★★☆ 
But I’ve survived too long for my side of the deal
And as I’ve reached that shore I’m not sure how to feel

An up-tempo song which is always fun live, because everybody in the crowd seems to be dancing or jumping up and down and so are the guys on stage. Frank often uses the instrumental parts to dance / jump to each side of the stage and interact with the audience on either side, which is kind of cool. Live it’s also always a bit of fun to watch which new tattoo he’s pointing out during the “sometime I get more [tattoos] when I get bored” bit. It sounds like a happy feel-good song if you don’t pay close attention to the lyrics. The title should tell you it’s not really; once again this one is quite dark in parts.

It also includes quite a lot good examples of what I love about Frank’s song writing. Not only have the lyrics a great rhythmical flow, but he’s also making use of the various neat linguistic elements the English – or any language – has to offer: rhyme, of course like five – survive, alliteration like broken, battered body and my favourite: as I reach that shore I’m not sure how to feel. I’ve no idea right now what that repetition of similar sound is called, and it doesn’t matter. I jut like it a lot. 

03. The Way I Tend To Be ★★★☆☆ 
You stood apart in my calloused heart, and you taught me and here’s what I learned:
That love is about the changes you make and not just three small words.

I’m so in love with the slow Songbook version of this song now, that it’s difficult to write a unbiased review of the original version. I always liked the lyrics and the melody/sound, but at the same time always felt a slight disconnect between both. It’s similar feeling as in regards to “Losing Days”: the melody actually is a bit too happy, too “feel-good-y” for what the song is all about. Thus I’m glad Frank has remedied that with the Songbook version. The original one also always makes me remember all the arms swaying from side to side at a gig. It’s a bit weird what a mind associates after a while, isn’t it? 

04. Plan Sailing Weather ★★★★★
I’ve been skirting round the rim of doing something
Brave, and not just standing, but jumping in

These words quoted above are some of my, albeit many, favourite lyrics Frank has ever written. I might take away a slightly different meaning from these words than he had in mind when he wrote them. I don’t know. He always claims that anyone is free to interpret his words the way they see fit (I paraphrased here, obviously) so I don’t feel guilty about assigning my meaning to those words.

After the opening song “Recovery” he’s clearly back in “breakup album” mode with this song. To me it’s one of the most powerful emotional songs he’s ever written. Powerful in the way that the energy of the music so very well fits the remorseful, flagellating, angry words he’s singing. He fucked this up. And he knows it. And he can’t undo it. And he’s raging about it. And still a tiny part of him might want to believe there’s still hope. But when after “behind your fingertips…” the “drum-roll” (for lack of better term) part sets in, it’s palpable on an almost visceral level to me that it’s over. Does that make any sense? Anyway, I just love how Nigel is hitting the drums here and whenever I’ve got a spot at the barrier and they play that song, my palms wildly drum along with him. 

Back to the song writing. I love the sailing metaphors. I love how once again the words flow along so wonderful rhythmically.  I love the phonetic sound of phrases like everybody’s lover is covered in scars or even better: beg you for forgiveness for my fuckups and my faults.

Such a great song. So sad and angry and emotional. So real!

05. Good & Gone ★★★☆☆
Sometimes the things you need are right back where you started from

I like this one all right. It’s one of those songs which are quite nice to listen to, but don’t quite resonate with me. I’ve just never experienced what he’s singing about here. The thing I most connect with this song is the anecdote from a gig or an interview, in which Frank talks about how he thought that this could be a great single until he sang it to music scene people in LA and realizing that the line “Fuck You Hollywood” probably killed all chances of this becoming a radio hit. No idea if there’s any truth to this story ;-)

06. Tell Tale Signs ★★★★★
When I thought that suffering was something profound, 
That weighed down on wise heads,
And not just something to be avoided,
Something normal people dread.

I can’t write objectively about this song. But neither do I have to, do I? It’s one of my all time favourites and it has been from the start. Because it’s so emotional. And raw. And personal. At least it has always felt like this to me, even though it might not be quite as autobiographical as I had assumed it to be when I started listening to Frank’s music. It is autobiographical, of course, in the sense that almost every song he writes is about something he himself has experienced: relationships, emotions, events… . But not always quite in the literal sense of the words he’s strung together so beautifully here. Creative licence and all. For instance by now I know or at least think to know, that “Amy” isn’t really called Amy and in fact “Amy” in all those songs might be a combination of more than one girl from more than one failed relationship. This song was definitely one of the reasons I had fallen so head over heels for Frank as a singer / songwriter / artist. You can’t hear him sing “It’s not even love any more, It’s just a claim upon my soul” and not feel his despair and have your heart break a little bit for him, can you? And if you can, you have no heart! 

Another reason why this song is so special to me is, that for probably the first time in my life, I heard lyrics which resonated with me soooo profoundly, that it was throwing me off quite a bit. I’m talking about the lines I quote above, about the suffering and the wise heads. It’s a bit difficult to find the right words to explain why these words moved and still move me so much. As a teenager and young woman I suffered from lack of self-esteem. Self-doubt. Feeling stupid. Feeling unworthy. All that crap. Every once in a while those thoughts and feelings still rear their ugly head even now that I’m all grown-up. But at least by now I can better cope with them and sort them out. I couldn’t quite do that 20+ years ago. I believed all that negative stuff my messed up mind told me. And I sometimes felt quite miserable. Of course there also was a lot of classic teenage angst too.

Because I was feeling so miserable, the younger me sometimes found some comfort in believing that maybe, I was supposed to feel that way. Maybe feeling miserable and being able to endure feeling miserable was what I was supposed to be. Destiny, karma, whatever. But that’s crap, because being miserable and interpreting “endurance of being miserable” as some kind of accolade is a rather messed up way of thinking. I’m glad I mostly got over that as I got older and that I’m more or less OK with being the person that I am now.

But I’m still a bit in awe that an English guy who grew up so differently from me and who lives a life quite different from mine these days found the perfect words to sum up this messed up emotional experience. And I’m still very grateful that he did, because hearing these words made and sometimes still make me reassess some things in my life: memories and emotions, memories of emotions and all that. Life changing in a way, there’s not other way to say it.

What else is there to say about this song? It’s a lovely tune and to me also the most beautiful poetry; phonetically, but also with all the imagery he has created here. I’m a fan, what can I say? 

07. Four Simple Words ★★★★★
We’ll sing like the barricades are down, and we’ll dance like no one’s around

Confession time: When I listened to TDH now song by song for the first time in ages I was a bit surprised to realize that this was song #7 and not the last one on the album. I’m so used to it being the epic bombastic finale of a (full band) show. Anyway. I love this one. Live of course, but even the album version is a great piece of song writing, musically especially. The slow start – just Frank and the piano, very theatrically. Then the guitar sets in and it’s still soft and nice and all of a sudden: BAM! Drums and punk and everything!

The “Hi ho hi ho hi ho, we’re heading out to the punk rock show” gets me moving and screaming every freaking time. It’s such a fun song to sing and dance and jump along to. Quite a bit of the lyrics resonate with me even though I’m not part of any music scene as such. I don’t go to a lot of gigs of many different bands. I do listen to and enjoy other artists and see those live on occasion as well. But not to the same extent as Frank and the Sleeping Souls. Not even close. When I started to be a bit more active in the Frank fan community (meeting up with strangers for a gig, carrying the tour flag) I sometimes felt a bit of a freak for being so single minded in my musical taste. Because so many of the dedicated Frank fans I met are also huge fans of other bands and are going to gigs of other bands all the time. And I didn’t. And still don’t. Frank and the Sleeping Souls and their crowd are “my culture, my home” and I’m finally starting to see that’s totally fine as well. 

08. Polaroid Picture  ★★★☆☆
So let go of the little distractions,
Hold close to the ones that you love,
Because we won’t all be here this time next year,
So while you can take a picture of us.

Since the first gigs I’ve seen and especially the PS4NP tour in 2016 this song is inescapably linked to a lot of jumping up and down. Sadly enough in 2016 often in memory of musicians who have died that year. David Bowie. Lemmy from Motörhead. It’s a great song which captures this weird feeling of realizing how quickly we and friends and the world around us have changed. Change is not necessarily a bad thing of course, but you do get sentimental for the past sometimes, don’t you? The lyrics are so spot on and real and relatable, because we’ve all been there and made these experiences. It’s also a good reminder to acknowledge and remember the good things in life, because it can all change in the blink of an eye. 

09. The Fisher King Blues  ★★☆☆☆
We’re all broken boys and girls, at heart,
Come together fall apart.

This is one of those rarer songs of Frank, that I kind of like, but don’t really understand :-) I know not every song has to have a clear message or meaning or be about something I can relate to. Sometimes it’s just a story he tells and that’s fine too. For instance I very much enjoyed the few yet unreleased songs he wrote for the concept album of historical women. But I digress… I do get the sentiment of the first part of the song. The Fisher King himself though leaves me a bit puzzled. Maybe it’s too metaphorical for me. And all in all a bit too depressing… 

10. Anymore ★★★★☆
Of two people sad and free, who know they used to be
More than just a pair of sinking ships.

I do like this song a lot. Which must make me look pretty fucked up, I know. All in all it’s the honest and outspoken and thus kind of heartbreaking story of how and why Frank broke up with his girlfriend. Frank himself once called it an “unkind” song and he has only ever played it live a few times in 2013. I’m not sure if he regrets putting it on the album after all. But what I find fascinating is, that the emotional ramifications of his actions and decision come across very well here. He is sorry about it and he feels sad. And he ends it anyway, because he has to. I guess, I probably can only like this song, because I’m not one of the two people involved. Autobiographical aspects and emotions aside, it is a beautiful song; melody and lyric wise and I’m a sucker for those. 

11. Oh Brother ★★★☆☆
This isn’t where it ends;
The world will keep on turning,
We’ll all make more mistakes, we’ll all have time to make amends.

Randomly, for the record: I also have got three brothers! But seriously. I like this one, even though I can’t really relate to what it’s about. I have close friends who I’ve known and been friends with for years, but none of those friendships reach back to when we were children. I also never really missed having a sister among all my brothers :-) But this is still a lovely song. I don’t know if I’ve heard that live? I should check my nerdy spreadsheet.  

12. Broken Piano ★☆☆☆☆
And as I drift beneath that bridge,
Just down the road from where you live,
I’ve often thought I might have caught
Your voice upon the wind.

What to write about this one? At some point in 2013/2014 I read that Frank considered this one to be one of the best songs he’s written up to that point. And I was a bit worried about album #6, because if he had been planning to write more songs like this one, I might not have stayed such a dedicated fan. I’m glad that the PS4NP songs were nothing like this one. Except maybe “Demons” in a way, which is my least favourite track of that 6th album.

I just can’t stand when it sounds like Frank is more talking than singing. I used to say there is no melody either, but of course there kind of is, in the way he’s talking/singing. I also listened to the Songbook version of this song again which I like a bit more, because it’s a bit less bombastic. But all in all I just don’t like these kind-of-acapalla-but-not-quite songs. I really have no idea how to describe it any better. It would be interesting to hear that song in a really stripped down version, accompanied with either just piano or acoustic guitar. I admit I’m also a bit sad that an album I love a lot – as should be obvious from this review – ends with a songs I just don’t care about. 

And that’s it… My very personal thoughts on “Tape Deck Heart”. At some point I might add a few words each about the additional songs of the deluxe version of the album. But I need to write reviews for the first two albums first. I doubt they will get this long and personal, but …. I hadn’t expected the TDH one to turn out like this either :-)

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