Some albums are timeless. Dark Side of the Moon is one of those. Others are timely. Somehow, Frank Turner’s last three albums have fit almost perfectly with my life.
I was introduced to Frank by the Revival Tour in early 2010. He played solo in front of 100 or so punters in Brisbane. At the end of the year, I saw him headline to a 3000-strong crowd in England. I’m genuinely not sure which I enjoyed more.
The album I bought back in February 2010 was Poetry of the Deed. While it lacked the bite of his previous work (Love, Ire and Song – still his best), it was upbeat and easy to dig into. The Road was an uncannily accurate anthem for the epic Australian road trip I embarked on, and I was hooked.
My life took a sharp turn in September 2010. Living out of a car was replaced by a life without cars. Instead I was exploring a lush, gentle green landscape, totally alien to the harsh and spectacular beauty of Australia. And, on cue, Frank released England Keep My Bones. It took me a little while to understand it. It wasn’t until I listened carefully to I Am Disappeared that my new home started to make sense.
England is not a place given life by its land. Yes, there is a living to be made from it for some. But the landscape does not define life. There aren’t things that will wrench you from your comfort zone and force you to pay attention to nature. I’ve never encountered a brown snake while walking home from work here, or watched a bushfire approach my back fence, or scampered across pavement hot enough to burn my feet. No. It’s a mild landscape with people at its heart. This place pulses with humanity and the lines in its landscape are signs of age in its history.
Moving to London has taught me as much about people as living in Australia taught me about the natural world. And while I’m not enchanted by the messy tangle of lives playing out in this giant city, I find it constantly surprises me. That brings me to Turner’s latest album: Tape Deck Heart. It’s really good.
He’s stated that he’s felt pressure to make his music and songwriting safer, because he knows that he’ll have hundreds of people shouting the words back at him every night. But instead he tries to write as though no-one will ever hear the songs. It shows. Tell-Tale Signs is up there with his (much earlier song) Father’s Day as one of the most personal and wrenching songs I’ve heard.
But the one that makes the most sense in my life right now is Polaroid Picture. It’s not the best on the album, and in fact I found it a bit bland on first listen. Funny how hindsight can make first impressions seem so wrong.
London is a place where it’s easy to feel as though I’m running to keep up with everything that’s happening, but still falling behind. I’ve got friends who I haven’t seen for a year, even though last time I caught up with them we’d promised to say hello again in a month. The place where I learned to rock climb has been turned into a railway station. The village hall of my Postgraduate Residences has been boarded up. At the same time, new faces and places have popped up in their stead. This is a place where every street corner and every landmark will hold meaning for someone, and it’s the density of experience that sometimes makes me catch my breath.
An invisible wallpaper of polaroid pictures covers this city. Sometimes I add my own, and sometimes I get a glimpse of other people adding theirs. I’ll take some of the moments with me forever, but I know that some will slip from my album or fade beyond recognition.
Music has a way of pulling these prints from the back of my mind, dusting them off, and bringing them back into view. Frank Turner’s songs have pride of place in the most exciting years of my life so far, and I couldn’t ask for a more appropriate soundtrack.