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Viagra Boys – ‘Welfare Jazz’

Eight days into 2021 and it’s still as bleak and chaotic as 2021. Some things never change. But out of the bleakness comes something new and refreshing. Something so distracting, it’s difficult not to become fully invested in it. Enter Viagra Boys.

The Stockholm band have a always been a little twisted. Their 2018 debut album ‘Street Worms’ set the tone of redefining genre expectations, lacing each track with a twist of sardonic snark and lo-fi, discordant instrumentation. That formula has remained with latest album ‘Welfare Jazz’, maintaining the misogynistic, dysfunctional imagery that frontman Sebastian Murphy portrays. As proved by their name, Viagra Boys tread the line between humour and provocation seamlessly, a line that could easily be blurred if it wasn’t for their delivery being firmly tongue in cheek.

Opening with ‘Ain’t Nice’, Murphy plays the villain, painting himself as a tortured genius with shallow needs. With most of ‘Welfare Jazz’ being written at a time when Murphy was coming to the terms his debauched lifestyle had turned him into an arsehole, it’s a reflective piece that paints him as he saw himself then – selfish, provocative and a bit of a dick. Accompanied by a largely one-shot video of him walking down a high street and causing carnage with everyone he meets, it’s matched by rhythms that are as abrasive and scuzzy as the lyrics.

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It’s swiftly followed by ‘Cold Play’, one of a handful of instrumental tracks peppered throughout the album, with a saxophone riff that feels slightly jarring sandwiched between the punchy sounds of ‘Ain’t Nice’ and ‘Toad’. These instrumental tracks act as both a respite and a palette cleanser, softening you just enough to feel at ease before bombarding you with chaotic synths and saxophones. There’s a frenetic dissonance that sits throughout the album, making it feel borderline disjointed, as if the whole thing will fall into a cacophonous conclusion of weird noises that shouldn’t be there. It shouldn’t work. It shouldn’t, but it does. Every screech of a saxophone, every slap of a tambourine, they’re all there by design.

‘Into The Sun’, a slow builder where Murphy pleads he’s battled his flaws and seeks forgiveness, rolls straight into ‘Creatures’. Discussing the expectations of the modern man who fails to reach societal expectations, its pointed and bleak messages are countered by disco synths that keep the track upbeat. Murphy’s vocals bounce between near spoken-word verses to a higher, creamier pitch during the choruses, as if screaming into the night for acceptance.

‘I Feel Alive’ and ‘Girls & Boys’ offer opposing styles, with the former being akin to early 70s Bowie. Chunky rhythms, casual flutes and a chorus that’ll never leave your head, it’s the bluesiest they’ve sounded. Meanwhile, ‘Girls & Boys’ offers a far more up-tempo track, full of more synths and misplaced saxophone than you can shake a glowstick at. It’s these variances between tracks that make them a genuinely fascinating listen. Every track is an unexpected left turn, but one that’s welcome.

Perhaps the most interesting take is the sudden leap into country music with the final two tracks having a slower, more considered twang. ‘To The Country’ is a pseudo love song, depicting the perfect life if Murphy and his partner moved to the country, escaping the drugs, the alcohol, the bullshit, and living an idyllic life together in peace.

Closing track and cover of the late John Prine’s classic ‘In Spite of Ourselves’ features Amy Taylor of Amyl & The Sniffers; telling the story of two lovers who’re opposing characters, their imperfections make them perfect for each other. With Taylor’s delicate vocals harmonising with Murphy’s creamy tones, it’s a combination that works like biscuits and gravy and if this doesn’t create pictures of trailer park love, nothing will. Accompanying the meaty bassline is a whole selection of panpipes, screeching and birdcalls to cement it as a faux country track, and it’s another example of the flexibility within Viagra Boys to touch on different genres – adding their own twist and make it their own.

As a general rule, sophomore albums tend to show where a band is headed, cementing their original sound but Viagra Boys buck the trend, both building on their debut output and adding a sense of madness to the sincerity. It’s a mind-bending album that’s chock full of surreal twists and turns. This is the soundtrack to an acid trip, a fever dream you can barely remember. Its beauty is in its chaos.

ANDY JOICE

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