Monday, January 11th, 2021
Jan 11, 2021
By Caleb Campbell
Swedish post-punks Viagra Boys populated the band’s 2018 debut Street Worms with liars, cheaters, and junkies, mimicking its worst aspects of hyper-masulinity with a dark comedic approach and a sardonic wit. With the band’s sophomore album, Welfare Jazz, however, Viagra Boys come off as less as comedic satirists and more as representatives of the very characters they critique, turning inward for a fascinating, though no less manic, follow up.
Opening with the record’s most hard hitting and outright catchy track, “Ain’t Nice,” Viagra Boys quickly make clear that they are still capable of delivering the mangled post punk of Street Worms. Yet, they also expand their sound, incorporating bits of jazz, motorik rhythms, and low-down country for an experience that broadens the band’s formula, but retains it’s scuzzy street origins. “Toad” and “Into the Sun” play like punk takes on cowboy songs, while “Creatures” recalls goth rock with it’s dark and synth-heavy presentation. Add in the noise experimentation and motorik drums on “6 Shooter” and the offbeat sound samples and chirping electronics of “Secret Canine Agent,” and you have a freewheeling combination that can veer between swaggering, unhinged, comedic, and grimey at any moment.
Within this context the band examines the long-held trope of the ramblin’ man, the type of hypermasculine archetype who, as frontman Sebastian Murphy sings on “Toad,” is going to “keep on hootin-and-a-hollerin/Drinking liquor, getting high/I’m never gonna be the man you want me to babe/I’m a rebel till I die.” It’s a romanticized rock-and-roll ideal that the band bitterly deconstructs over the course of the album. Viagra Boys do play into the trope with a swaggering Iggy Pop-esque delivery on “Toad” and “Ain’t Nice,” but that facade quickly breaks down.
Murphy prostrates himself to a partner, insisting he can change on the dirty cowboy hymn “Into the Sun” before later leading a boozy, unhinged sing-along with “I Feel Alive.” The gutter anthem has a loose and discordant element, sounding both enticingly debauched and bitterly sad, all despite Murphy’s insistence that he feels alive. The addictive dance punk track, “Girls & Boys” succinctly sums up the record’s themes as Murphy notes, “(Girls) They always try to tie me down/(Boys) They want to go out on the town/(Drugs) The only way I can boogie down/(Love) Something I know nothing about.”
Things look a bit brighter on “To the Country,” as Murphy insists that if they can just leave the city he and his partner would be happier, they’d fight less, and he’d be clean for good. Yet, there’s an expertly constructed bit of menace in the instrumental leaving ambiguity as to whether the song represents a real choice to settle down or a desperate last ditch attempt to save the relationship. That ambiguity remains on the atmospheric cover of John Prine’s “In Spite of Ourselves.” The band brilliantly recasts the rosy future the song presents in more sinister shades, as they randomly repeat lines in the verses and end on a note of disquieting post-punk, punctuated by the disconcerting squeal of electronics.
Outlaw characters are a dime-a-dozen in rock music. Over the years many artists have seen themselves as kindred spirits with the West’s wild men, inisting that they can’t be tied down due to life on the road. But when Viagra Boys invoke this imagery on Welfare Jazz, it comes off as a self-destructive adolescent fantasy. By deconstructing these narratives and putting the listener in the midst of these drug-addled tales of street life Viagra Boys construct a thematically rich follow up to their debut, accompanied by a frenzied post-punk concoction that becomes more rewarding with every listen. (www.vboysstockholm.com)
Author rating: 8/10
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