Viagra Boys – ‘Welfare Jazz’ | Album Review

viagra boys

Viagra Boys new album Welfare Jazz is out now via Year0001.

Parody and lampooning in music can be a dicey idea. Get it right and you will be lauded as a modern era wordsmith who is in touch with the zeitgeist and possession of a rare sense of wit and intellect. Get it wrong and accusations of seeking to profit from moments of tragedy, dismissing sensitive incidents and leading to claims of trying to appeal to hate groups and internet edge-lords. Bands can wave this off, but the lingering feeling can remain long after the event. Especially if they are taking aim at social groups considered below them in the standing. Aim upwards! Using themselves in the subject matter can work in terms of self-depreciation. You don’t want to become so convincing in that role, you are seen to revel in it though.

Attempting to get on the right side of this are Stockholm based post-punks, Viagra Boys. Presenting a greasy and debauched image of themselves but being forward looking and progressive in their mindset, they burst on the scene in the last five years. A series of well-regarded EP’s resulted in the release of Street Worms in 2018. This album took aim at toxic masculinity and class politics. A blistering support slot to Sleaford Mod’s raised their profile even more. Ratcheting up the package with an over-the-top demonstration of sleaze, mock outrage and captivating performances. Channeling the likes of The Bad Seeds, The Fall, and The Butthole Surfers, they were able to combine a sense of moodiness and danger with their sound which reflected their world view. But a switch in focus was made to put more emphasis in the forthcoming material more personal. Vocalist, Sebastian Murphy, revealed in interviews that much of these based was based on himself and his behaviour, despite being in a long-term relationship.

The album, to me, seems to flow like a concept in that sense. The two main opening tracks sees him almost revel in his conduct. At this point, he merely sees his girlfriend as someone who will be able to give him somewhere to stay. The opener, ‘Ain’t Nice’, states over a filthy groove, “You ain’t nice but you’ve got a nice space/Hope I can fit all my shit at your place.” It seems all he wants is a woman who won’t disagree and talk back to him: “If you don’t like it then I’ll see you later.” The idea of wanting to settle down with her is the furthest thing from his mind and he is unwilling to consider the prospect. It appears to combine the feel of a crowd-stomper with uneasiness. This is emphasized in the country-inflected ‘Toad’ where her ideas of “A cabin in the woods with a coupla chickens, a coupla dogs and a coupla kids,” is firmly tossed aside. The rebukes of “Cos you ain’t my mother, so don’t pretend to be,” and “I’m never gunna be the man you want/Cos I’m a rebel until the day I die,” seem to be the boasting of a proud, arrogant man. This bravado is mirrored by the rumbling bass and squealing sax notes. On the flip side it could be seen as being trapped within his own addictions and knowing no other way of life. Nihilistic Stooges like-vocals match the theme. Slotting in between is a decent instrumental sax piece and a gruff spoken word on “This old dog of mine”. Not the last time we encounter that.

A shift in tone occurs during ‘Into the Sun’. The bass increases in weight and the electronics become more low-key and meditative. Our subject begins to show a degree of remorse for his lifestyle and actions. He proclaims: “Well I would do everything to take back the things I’ve done,” and: “I’ll stop all of my ramblings/Try to settle down”. It seems that sorrow has begun to creep into his mentality, which is often the regret experienced during a hangover. Looking back on his way of life also occurs during ‘Creatures’. Its ominous synth-pop feel sums up life in the lower class. He recounts dumpster diving and retrieving junk to sell to fund himself: “Yeah we live under the water/We don’t need money/We deal in copper.”  “They don’t sleep/They come out at night,” signifies the kind of existence he was living during a dark time trying to make ends meet. The tone sets out to neither condone nor criticise those involved in this trade. It’s merely an admission of who he was. And he seems to be relishing a fresh start on ‘I Feel Alive’. The bar-room blues sense may slightly lapse into parody but gets across the point of relief and clear mindedness. “But I tell you what/The whole damn world can see me smile/Such a better guy,” and, “Feel like a new man now/Such a better guy,” would seem to testify to this.

It appears that the full redemptive arc has been approached on ‘To the Country.’ The poignant ballad is distinctly rawer and more authentic . Suddenly the idea of rural life of, “just you and me and the dogs/And no drugs to bring us down” sounds quite appealing to him and everything would be fine between them both. “We’d be real nice to each other/I wouldn’t scream and yell/And ramble about my problems.” It all comes together with a weighty and unsettling version of John Prine’s ‘In Spite of Ourselves’ with Amy Taylor of Amyl and the Sniffers. The original was  a celebration of love between the downtrodden but here the concept becomes increasingly disquieting. It is the one time that a female voice is heard on the album and perhaps puts all the ideas into context. They, and more than likely, he are always going to be the people that they are no matter how much change is attempted. But both parties rely on each other when it comes down to it. We leave them to an uncertain future.

Not every musical idea hits a high note or achieves its landing. Some of the intermission numbers like ‘Secret Canine Agent’ and ‘This Old Dog’ feel like throw-away workouts that were included regardless. ‘Girls and Boys’ is a strong dancefloor stomper, but I feel is placed wrong in the track-listings. It could be higher up in terms of the flow of the album. Thankfully, ‘6 Shooter’ is a pulsating instrumental which does not detract at all. It contains an incessant driving bassline and electronics which could stand tall with established Krautrock bands. One could see this being a huge track when played live. Elsewhere, there are traces of Suicide, Super Furry Animals and Captain Beefheart.

Special praise should be given to the band in question. Henrik Höckert has real power and presence in his basslines, and Oskar Carls adds a real sense of discordance in his sax. Elsewhere, Benjamin Valle on guitar and Tor Sjödén on drums provide a solid presence. Perhaps some of the tracks could work better if they were fleshed out, but you feel that would be the case in a live setting. For now, they get the balance just right.

Welfare Jazz can be ordered via their website

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