The Taxpayers are everything modern punk should be– a merging of chaos, melody, and intelligent lyricism that recklessly claws at divinity. “God, Forgive These Bastards” Songs From The Forgotten Life Of Henry Turner is without a doubt The Taxpayers’ best work to date, but more so it throws down the gauntlet to their peers. This is how good punk can be and this is how good punk should be.
God, Forgive These Bastards… is a concept album that follows the titular Henry Turner, a man who goes from a promising future in baseball to a homeless storyteller riding the buses of Portland, OR. While concept albums have ambition to spare, they usually fail in their execution. Either the story suffers at the hands of forced songs, or the songs are too vague to hold the structure of a story within them. However, the songs on God, Forgive These Bastards… are brilliant; snapshots of a man’s life set fervently to music.
But what makes the record even more exciting is its companion piece– a biographical novel written from the perspective of Henry Turner himself, authored by Taxpayer vocalist/guitarist Rob Morton. While the album works perfectly on its own, the book exists to contextualize it. Having listened to the album first, its literary counterpart acts as the dialogue between musical numbers, enriching the songs without becoming a crutch.
The album begins with the sporadic bursts of a horn section, lending the opening of “And The Sun Beats Down” a jazzy atmosphere that eventually transitions to a more conventional guitar and bass set-up. But as a verse ends the song once again blasts full force into a chaotic horn melee. For God, Forgive These Bastards… The Taxpayers have added jazz as a prominent component to the long list of influences that define their sound.
“Atlanta’s Own” features some truly frenetic horn work, sounding like a hardcore punk version of “Flight of the Bumblebee” played with breakneck abandon. Even with its speed, The Taxpayers maintain a melodic foundation, never sacrificing tunefulness for tempo. “Weapon of God” remains one of my favorite songs on the album, featuring a bouncy aggressiveness that speaks volumes in its delivery. The lyrics are sung on the crumbling edge of hoarseness, bringing to mind the wild-eyed desperation of Henry Turner himself at his lowest point.
The lyrical content of God, Forgive These Bastards… is top-tier stuff. The opening couplet of “The Business Man” manages to not only twist a rhyme into a meaningful set of words but to also satisfy the rhythms lilting cadence: “God, it never got easy, but it sure got good when the businessman came to my adopted neighborhood.” It’s no secret that rhymes are pleasing to the ear, but to tell a story with them is no easy task, making it all the more impressive to hear The Taxpayers’ tight rhymes unravel into story.
“I Love You Like An Alcoholic” is in the style of The Taxpayers’ folkier material, and is one of the strongest songs on the album, effectively slowing the pace for a little introspection. But to say one song is better than another is really a disservice to the consistently excellent songwriting displayed throughout God, Forgive These Bastards…, an album like this doesn’t have any bad songs.
On two occasions, we are given interviews instead of songs that relate to Henry Turner’s past. While some listeners may be disapointed with these tracks, they provide the necessary anecdotal evidence to bring further depth to the Turner story. It’s important to note however, that the existence of Turner is still up for debate. Besides the information provided from The Taxpayers, I haven’t been able to find anything that confirms or denies his existence. But at the end of the day, this story isn’t about documentation. Henry Turner may not exist, but that doesn’t make his story any less poignant.
The Taxpayers are pushing punk forward without lapsing into pretentious inaccessibility. Their music is fast, loud, and hard. But it’s also smart, passionate, and honest. God, Forgive These Bastards… deserves not only to be heard, but to be respected.
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