Viagra Boys – Welfare Jazz

Welfare Jazz

Viagra Boys

2021 • ROCK/PUNK • YEAR0001

7.6

On their second album, the band from Stockholm takes their best qualities to a higher and sharper level. Their sound never looked so visceral and their compositions never looked so smart.

Viagra Boys is an unusual band, outside its own genre for many different reasons. As an article in The Guardian pointed out, if you sign up to receive email updates from the band, for example, you can be sure that you will rarely get to read it since it will always end up in your spam box because it is easily mistaken as an adult ad. Furthermore, since the beginning of their activity, the Stockholm band has been making an interesting mix: their sound is dirty and unpolished, it mixes alternative rock with post-punk, in addition to touches of something that was born from the mixture of rap influences experimental and jazz. What in theory seems to sound unthinkable, in practice sounds visionary and their latest album, Welfare Jazz, is a great example of how it all comes together.

Although the sound of Viagra Boys hasn’t changed much since they released their first EP, 2015’s Consistency of Energy, now, with Welfare Jazz, everything sounds more vicious. In general, the album features strumming on greasy guitars, violent drums, grotesque tugs on basses, and hoarse and thick vocals coming out of Sebastian Murphy’s sawn throat. All this sonic dirt makes the album work: the songs flow easily, creating vivid imagery of a roadside bar with a dirt floor and a dark room lit only by TV in a gray city. Together with the sharp and unsophisticated lyrics, it is all this thick atmosphere that makes the album unique and the best project that Viagra Boys has released to date.

The most striking point of the Viagra Boys’ second album is the production, which is thorough, detailed, very well cared for, and relatively different from what can be found in the genre of post-punk. Right at the opener, “Ain’t Nice,” you can see how neat the sound of the album is. The track starts with synthesizers that jump quickly from one frequency to another, as if heating the engine of a fast machine. Then, a guitar solo and thick bass mix with opaque drum beat while noises of a phone calling play in parallel with other shiny electronic sounds. All of these different instruments fit together like puzzle pieces, creating not only a very impressive and striking sound but also an incredible progression. These qualities, in turn, are expanded to other songs, like “Toad,” where we can see the clear image of the group performing at a dirty road bar, and “Girls & Boys,” which has the most different and visionary sound in all the album with the vocalist drooling during a confessional conversation with a demon. Nobody in the business is doing anything this bold.

However, it is not only in the sound that Viagra Boys has improved their senses since their lyrics also show something much sharper and more fearless than what was seen previously. In the first track of the album, the singer incarnates a toxic boyfriend who lives mistreating his partner. He sings, “You ain’t that nice, but you got a nice face/Hope I can fit all my shit at your place/Got a collection of vintage calculators/If you don’t like it, well babe, I’ll see you later.” Ironically, according to Murphy himself to NME, “I’m not good at talking about politics, but everything is political when it comes down to it.” Thus, it is observed that the lyrics of Viagra Boys have become more mischievous than ever and smarter and deeper than ever too. While in “Creatures,” the catchiest pop track, he narrates the lives of marginalized people, in “I Feel Alive” we see a man who almost overdosed and now promises to stop getting high. The careful work on each word on each line can be noticed.

But, not everything in Welfare Jazz is great and the biggest villain of the album ends up being the excess. Some instrumental and short tracks spread throughout the album seem unnecessary, such as “Cold Play,” which shows a saxophone solo that ended up being pointless, and “This Old Dog,” which, in addition to being poorly positioned on the album, seems only an effect feature. Likewise, the well-produced “6 Shooter” is too long, and “Best in Show li” seems to have come out of an experimental rap album and seems a little lost here. Finally, the very ingrained and almost not well-exposed concept of “Secret Canine Agent” was what ended up giving a lukewarm feeling to a song that had a lot of potential.

In the final stretch of Welfare Jazz, Viagra Boys presents one of the two best songs on the record. In “To the Country” they finally abandoned the hangman and problematic character that circulates the album and presents a romantic track of a man dreaming of starting a life together with his lover. He begins, “I apologize for showing up so dirty/But I know she doesn’t mind even though she’s never dirty.” Finally, the last track, a cover of a song by John Price, delivers an incredible duet between Murphy and Amy Taylor, which ended up being incredibly pleasant and charming to hear. Although both of these songs seem to be a point offset from the rest of the album — and they really are — it doesn’t matter. And yet, Welfare is the sharpest, most cohesive, and promising project the band has released to date. The future has never looked so promising.

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