#3 Viagra Boys — Welfare Jazz

No second-album nerves for the Swedish five-piece.

Artwork by Sebastian Murphy (Source)

I’ve led a sheltered life when it comes to Viagra Boys. I remember “Sports” being played to death on 6 Music a few years back. It was a good track, but like anything on radio, you can have too much of a good thing. I never got round to listening to Street Worms, their full-length debut, so I’m coming to their second release cold.

I’m four-listens deep into Welfare Jazz and I feel like opener “Ain’t Nice” is a good litmus test for those, like me, who hadn’t a clue what they were getting in for. Gritty drawl, screeching sax and a bass stacked with fuzz. It’s immediate, visceral, and couldn’t care less what you think of it. It pays to hold-out until the last minute of the track, when they’re at their most raucous and arguably best.

One of the stand-out elements on the record are the bass lines. Thick, whompy and ride at the heart of most of the tracks. They’re swamp-chuggers on “Into the Sun” and “I Feel Alive”, and bounce around the more synth-led tracks like “Creatures”. It’s a pretty accessible record, even on first listen, largely a result of these bass hooks.

“Creatures” is an interesting one. I’d associate the sound closer to something from Future Islands, with a driving bass washed with whimsical keys. The lyrics on the other hand, seem to deal with those making ends meet on the fringes of society, who “don’t need money” and “trade in copper”. It’s not looking to expose anyone or anything, nor is it looking for sympathy either. It sugarcoats a lifestyle of harsh realities in synth-pop, and I like the irony in it.

In fact it’s a feeling I get from most of the record. There’s a dry humour and parody throughout, to the point at times where I can’t tell if the whole thing is just one big piss-take. Frontman Sebastian Murphy sounds like Ian Curtis on a steady dose of steroids and acid on “Secret Canine Agent”. The closer, a John Prine cover, verges on the notion that the joke’s really on us. I’d argue the record doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should we when listening.

I think the more lethargic moments on the album really help. “To the Country” and “Into the Sun” suggest there’s more than one-gear to the band. The change in pace also makes the chaos sound even more frenetic when it inevitably kicks back in.

I can’t get enough of “6 Shooter”. An instrumental joyride that ploughs through in a straight line, foot to the floor. It’s got a bit of a prog sound like something from King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard. It’s a big sound and I bet it’s a belter live.

There’s not much to dislike on Welfare Jazz. The title itself is a pretty accurate description too – it grooves on a shoestring. In its best moments, it’s a thick soup of infectious hooks and discordant sounds with a driving rhythm behind it. At times it shouldn’t work, but it nearly always does – and it’s a sound they can claim as their own.

Welfare Jazz unapologetically looks at life through the bottom of an empty pint glass. Fans of Parquet Courts, Fat White Family and Shame would probably find something to get their teeth into in this. I’ll definitely be digging into their earlier work after this, and hope 6 Music refrain from too many repeats.

Noteworthy Tracks: “Ain’t Nice”, “6 Shooter”, “Girls & Boys”

Notes, thoughts and reflections on albums.