The recurring theme throughout Tape Deck Heart, Frank Turner’s fifth album, is change. Those who have followed Turner’s career since he went solo in 2005 won’t be surprised. After 1,400 incendiary live shows and four acclaimed albums, last year saw the musician previously known as a punk poet become (whisper it) a sort of pop star. From a fake Glastonbury Tour, Turner performed at the Olympics Opening Ceremony. He headlined Wembley Arena. He sold more than 100,000 copies of his fourth album, England Keep My Bones, which entered the UK charts at No 12 on its release in 2011.
Turner, of course, would never describe himself as a pop star. He prefers the word ‘entertainer’, with its tradition of vaudeville, theatre and music hall. His emergence from the underground he still adores – and still regards himself as part of – was tinged with trepidation. “Insane things have happened since England Keep My Bones came out,” he says. “The success I’ve experienced was entirely unexpected. It made me think about where I started and where I’m heading. It made me wonder if I could continue as a musician with integrity influenced by punk rock while doing arena tours. The answer I concluded is yes, obviously, or I wouldn’t be here.”
From Tape Deck Heart’s sublime opening track (and first single) Recovery, however, it’s clear that the changes in Turner’s life have been personal as well as professional. One of several break‐up songs on the album, Recovery sets tales of cider‐fuelled nights in strange flats to joyous, jubilant, singalong rock. “I like that contrast between upbeat music and dark lyrics,” says Turner. “It sounds like a happy song, but it’s clearly not. The album is about unexpected change and a big part of it is relationships ending. I was in a long term relationship with someone and it was a huge shock for me when we split up last year. Because I write in a reactive way, I knew it would come out in the songs. As you can tell from the record, I’m still not sure the spilt was for the best. That’s something else I’m conflicted about!”
On Tape Deck Heart, Turner exposes his soul as never before. His most personal album, it is packed with songs he found difficult to record and now worries about releasing in to the world. It’s also the album on which Turner pushed himself hardest and allowed himself to be pushed. The reward is in the rich detail, in unusual turns of phrase you’ll hear once and never forget, in the raw emotion with which Turner tells of a turbulent 12 months. “We spent 30 days recording – the most for any previous album was 10,” he says.
Tape Deck Heart also portrays the positives of love and the benefits of change. The Way I Tend to Be is a gloriously sunny pop‐rock song about a lover who brings out the best in you. Losing Days is charming, chiming rock on which Turner addresses the changes that come with age (“I used to think that I / Wouldn’t live past 25,” he sings, as though surprised that he has). Sonically, Tape Deck Heart’s most surprising song is closer Broken Piano, a majestic, five‐and‐a‐half minute ballad boasting military drums and electronic loops. “It’s the most progressive song I’ve ever written,” says Turner. “Musically, I don’t really deal in originality – I’m no Bjork or Aphex Twin. It has something of a traditional English melody, but juxtaposed with lots of weird, electronic stuff. It’s the song that pulls the album together. The rest are about being caught up in the middle of the maelstrom. On Broken Piano, I realise I’ve made it to the other side and that chapter of my life is closed.”