British singer-songwriter Frank Turner is a music-industry throwback. In spite of his position in some circles as an artist new to America (mainly because the new Tape Deck Heart, his fifth studio album, is being distributed in the U.S. via major label Interscope instead of Epitaph), the 31-year-old folk-punk is an established musician who has built a career on his own terms—and at his own pace. During the past eight years as a solo artist, Turner has accrued loyal followers with tireless touring, a steady stream of new music, and charismatic live shows, leading to superstardom in the U.K. (he sold out Wembley Arena last year) and a rabid cult following Stateside.
Produced by Rich Costey (Muse, Interpol), Tape Deck Heart already shows signs of expanding Turner’s reputation in the U.S.; the album’s jaunty lead single, “Recovery,” is a song about post-breakup hopelessness with radio-friendly strums and singsong rhythms. The rest of Tape Deck Heart is just as accessible, and feels like a slightly more polished take on his last album, 2011’s England Keep My Bones. (At times, it’s even quite reminiscent of Dusk And Summer-era Dashboard Confessional.) It’s also full of exquisite detail: Strident mandolin, bar-band piano, and murmuring organ—all courtesy of Turner’s backing band, The Sleeping Souls—enhance his rich acoustic guitar and British accent-tinged vocals. While Tape Deck Heart is meticulous, it’s far from well-mannered; the tunes range from barnstorming electric rock (“Plain Sailing Weather”) and harrowing folk (the sparse “Tell Tale Signs” and “Anymore”) to Billy Bragg-like pop (“Losing Days”), and ferocious punk howls (“Four Simple Words”).
Lyrically, the album is just as detailed. Where England Keep My Bones featured multiple songs focused on his homeland, Tape Deck Heart is very much an inward-looking record. Turner wrestles with memories of the ones that got away, realizes with terror how fast time slips away as he grows older, struggles with admitting he’s fallen out of love, and berates himself for screwing up a relationship. Yet his clever wit pops up from time to time, adding some much-needed levity. “Good & Gone” curses both Hollywood and Mötley Crüe for the ways each distorts love’s reality, while “Oh Brother” jokes about the “old flyers, lame tattoos, the in-jokes and memories” that bond band members who are going their separate ways—a group that formed many years before because one member knew “the chords to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’” Tape Deck Heart might be a far cry from Turner’s strident acoustic punk roots, but his brutally honest self-reflection and unflinching romantic analysis elevate the record into something just as meaningful.