Genre is a funny thing – generally up to interpretation with tons of crossover, it’s hard to say what “is” and “isn’t” to be classified as this or that type of music, and rarely does anyone actually agree on it. But genre is generally a useful tool for describing a band or artist, giving an idea of what they probably sound like. So when I heard the newest album from Frank Turner, lauded as the bootstrap-success folk-punk sensation, I was slightly perplexed.
At the risk of sounding like a punker-than-thou elitist bastard, I’m not positive I’d call Tape Deck Heart “folk punk.” The pretty mandolin in “Losing Days” sounds closer to a scruffy Dashboard Confessional than Against Me!, the piano accompanying the chorus of “Polaroid Picture” a little more Jack’s Mannequin and a little less Andrew Jackson Jihad.
Perhaps I’m being overly pedantic, but it takes more than a “goddamn” here and “fuck you” there to classify as a punk artist – something of which fans of Turner’s former band, Million Dead, are well aware.
Tape Deck Heart is not a punk album, folk prefix or otherwise, but, in a way, more. From the incredibly catchy opener “Recovery,” Turner starts spilling his feelings through intelligently-articulated stories of heartbreak and love gone wrong. “Plain Sailing Weather,” one of the strongest tracks on the album, sees Turner shouting that, given one fine day, “[he] can fuck up anything,” and in “Anymore,” he almost whispers, his voice full of sadness, that he “doesn’t love you anymore.”
Though it’s largely touted as a breakup album, other topics covered are tattoos (in the aptly named “Tattoos”), the bonds of being in a band (“Oh Brother”) and, probably the biggest break from the musical and topical mold, Turner’s favorite pastime – the punk rock show. “Four Simple Words” starts slow with vaudeville-esque piano, but with a cry of OI! OI! OI! OI! breaks into the “punkiest” thing on the album, reminiscent somewhat of The Living End (without the rockabilly influence).
Littered with pop culture references and fantastically catchy instrumentation, Tape Deck Heart never quite settles into a rut – and that’s perfect. Tied together with clever lyrics and Turner’s surprisingly upbeat voice (even when singing about the darkest of subject matter), the album is entertaining and interesting from start to finish, and whether it’s “folk punk” or not, it’s good.