Viagra Boys – Welfare Jazz Album Review

Year0001 – 2021

Swedish alt punk 5-piece outfit Viagra Boys return with the follow up to 2018’s Street Worms, an album that focused on dystopian social commentary and toxic masculinity. Now the band revered for their live spectacle have distilled their raucous sound into a country-fied and fried punchy journey follow up that through stories of abusive relationships, toxic masculinity and their disdain for far-right political parties, carries on their message of the need for self evaluation.

Throughout this album the bleak and satirical stance of the band continue, this time in an even more humorous form. Often lead singer Sebastian Murphy will take to singing in the style of a caricature of the masculine men they are confronting. On “Toad” he sings “Well, I don’t need no woman tellin’ me, When to go bed and when to brush my teeth” , whilst giving his best southern American impression. It’s this ability to criticise whilst also adding an air of whimsy about the critique that allows these songs to become more relatable and accessible to the wider audience. We can all laugh at the cartoon like characters, but at the same time it makes us stop and think about how people like this still live in society, and the progress that still needs to be made. “Creatures” is the bans take on an anthem for the underclass as they deliver an emphatic chorus line of “We are the creatures, Down at the bottom, We trade in scrap metal, And electronics”. It’s inspiring in it’s self-depreciation and unifying stance of admiration of the working class.

The commentary is sometimes blurred on this album though between fact and fiction as stories also come from a personal perspective from Murphy. The ground shaking “Ain’t Nice” is Murphy retelling the recent break up he endured and looking back on himself, realising that he should have done things differently, but it’s too late now.

The title itself relates to free jazz, or jazz that can’t be lived off. And this idea of free moving sounds can be heard throughout as the band continues their run of genre blending songs, incorporating elements of punk, jazz, disco, electronic music and a huge helping of country. Shifting and moving between sounds almost seamlessly, going from the honky-tonk grooves of “I Feel Alive” to the euro-house infused “Girls And Boys” is quite the juxtaposition, and yet it they both carry the bands signature blend of entrancing and mysterious soundscapes. You can hear every influence as they wear them on their sleeves and yet they create a sound that feels fresh and ever evolving. To simply list them in the category of ‘punk’ would be an injustice to their strive for fresh and new ways to manipulate and mould each song to not only represent the emotion they are delivering, but also to have a personality of its own. This is perhaps highlighted on closer “In Spite Of Ourselves”, a cover of John Prine’s 1999 classic with Amy Taylor from Amyl and The Sniffers taking the part Iris DeMent originally sang. The once happy-go-lucky sound is transformed into a crunching and psychedelic infused unsettling ode to the love among the lower class. The beats are pounding, the guitars are sun drenched and the soundscape is erratic but it serves as prominent closer to an album full of bravado.

One element that stands out more often than not in this album is the ever expanding sound design. The band captures a lo-fi feeling, whilst also allowing each sound to explode out and pound through the mix. Just take the rolling crunchy bass line of opener “Ain’t Nice”, mixed with the ringing synth interjects and scatty saxophone that appears to add a flavour of welcome warmth to the track. And “Into The Sun” is so luscious on your ears that you can almost feel yourself floating away into the eternal brightness as the phaser smothered guitar lines and chugging bass line carries you on your ascent.

There are moments however on the album that can sometimes get lost in the sound play whilst not really progressing the album to anywhere new, like on “6 Shooter” that although keeps with the bands pulsing sound seems to spend it’s near 5 minute run time just rolling over the same riff with different interjections occasionally appearing to try and add something new; it may work in a live setting but on the album just takes too much away from the impactful songs that surround it. The opposite can be said however for “Secret Canine Agent” which packs so many sleek and apprehensive sounding elements backed by the driving groove into its 1 minute 45 seconds that you’re just left begging for more.

We may only be a few days into the new year but already Viagra Boys have delivered a collection of evaluative and societally reflective hard hitting bangers that will be sure to soundtrack many peoples years, wherever it may take them. Their name is a reference to macho men being unable to perform when necessary, but these boys have certainly outperformed themselves on this album.

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