Cold Hearted Town is not only a continuation, but a regrouping. Following their epic masterpiece God Forgive These Bastards, whatever The Taxpayers decided to do next would have to face down the grandiloquence of their last effort. Cold Hearted Town scales down the scope this time around with only twenty-two minutes to its name and a stripped down soundscape. While not bad by any means, I found myself missing the ambition and experimentalism of their previous work and wishing Cold Hearted Town aimed for something higher.
“Cold Hearted Town Part 1” opens the album with a swampy blues atmosphere, no doubt a tribute to their new co-hometown New Orleans. The jazzy horns– perhaps God Forgive These Bastards’ most identifiable characteristic– are back but this time a bit more accessible in their application, giving the song an almost film noir feel. Rob Taxpayer is as passionate a shouter as ever, the sound of his voice simultaneously raw and melodic. The songs companion piece, “Cold Hearted Town Part 2” features some of The Taxpayers’ best lyricism to date, painting a stark portrait of a poverty and crime-ridden town. One particularly chilling couplet caught my ear in particular: “Buy a suicide connection, or a child for half the price: you can treat him like a dog and only feed him bowls of rice.”
“Plant Oak” is driven by acoustic guitar and bluesy harmonica. It’s slow and meditative, bringing a palpable melancholy to the already dark lyricism. The following song, “Lynch Pins” is more recognizably punk in its tempo– but of course still permeated with The Taxpayers’ trademark non-punk instrumentation. Its insistent beat is its strength, pushing one’s body into its own stilted rhythm. It’s with “Blackridge Theme” where Cold Hearted Town loses a lot of luster with me. I’ve never been one for instrumentals, especially boring, repetitive ones. While sometimes an instrumental can be a compositionally worthy addition, or serve a distinct purpose in regards to an album’s flow, “Blackridge Theme” ultimately drowns in its own extended runtime, destined only to be skipped in future listens.
I’ve always loved The Taxpayers’ the most when they bring their hardcore influences to the forefront and filter them through the prism of their own unique style. “Something in the Water” is one of the more interesting tracks on the album– featuring female backup vocals, Rob Taxpayers’ hardcore vocal delivery, and some truly jazzy horn lines. It’s a shame it ends so soon, as it’s one of the few songs that feels like it could’ve found a home on God Forgive These Bastards. “Evil Men” is an acoustic track and a fitting, if not slightly unambitious, ending to Cold Hearted Town. The song is catchy, bouncy, and features some great imagery (Lonnie is dead face down in the water. His bloated back grows red as the sun grows hotter). “Evil Men” wraps things up neatly with its final chorus, a classically punk rock sentiment: “These liars, killers, and evil men have collected the land and are in power again. You can hide under a rock or you can turn yourself in, but they are ruthless, hungry, and in power again.”
Cold Hearted Town is undoubtedly a good album, maybe even very good, but compared to the transcendent God Forgive These Bastards, its hard not to look at is as a regrouping– a mulligan, if you will, from fan to artist, still riding the high that was their last record. The Taxpayers are a great band, and Cold Hearted Town doesn’t diminish that reputation, but it serves as a iron-clad reminder that The Taxpayers’ are best when they’re pushing punk’s boundaries, not working within them.