Album Reviews

Viagra Boys – Welfare Jazz

(YEAR0001) UK release date: 8 January 2021


Viagra Boys - Welfare JazzViagra Boys’ Sebastian Murphy is the first to admit he can be a bit of a dick. When he performs live he’s obviously sending up the worst parts of the patriarchy (the overt sexism, slobbish attitudes and sense of entitlement that men carry with them) all with a cheeky wink of the eye. But in real life, behind the scenes, if he’s honest, at times he’s an asshole. It’s cost him a lot over the years; he’s lost friendships, relationships and career opportunities. Luckily he’s willing to make a change, it’s a new year after all, and he’s resolute about becoming a better person. Or at least he was.

The video for Ain’t Nice, the first track on this, the Swedish group’s second album, takes on The Verve’s infamous Bittersweet Symphony promo, in which pouty drug hoover Richard Ashcroft aggressively bumps into people on a high street, moaning “No change, I can’t change, I am here in my mould”. A left to right scrolling timeline of degradation and eventual realisation, it tracks Murphy tormenting his hometown, stealing scooters and bikes, destroying picnics, pushing and kicking strangers before blacking out, waking up and realising he’s now wealthy, lauded and suddenly accountable for past indiscretions. A look of abject horror fills his ashy face as it dawns, that he probably should have been nicer. Oh well, fuck it.

Next track Cold Play thankfully doesn’t sound anything like its drippy arena suffocating namesakes. Instead it’s a half minute blast of weary sax that segues into the grimy Toad, where Murphy summons a speed agitated Elvis croon, jamming with the guys from Suicide down in the sewers, thanking his woman for his kindness but fearing she wants commitment. Over jerking bass lines he brags of how “you can’t fix me” and “I’m never gonna be the man you want me to / I’m a rebel ‘til I die”.

Into The Sun is a splintering lump of sun-parched romantic melodrama that resembles the hoary animalistic tics and growls of Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. Wearing its gothic heart on its sleeve, Murphy begs for forgiveness spouting “I know that its over babe, this much I can see, but I promise I’ve changed a lot, I destroyed the old me”. By the time they get to Creatures the band doesn’t even bother adding a layer of scuzz. It’s a searing tribute to a generation of complex men who acknowledge they fall shamelessly somewhere beneath society and its unrealistic expectations.

On I Feel Alive he continues the Nightclubbing era Iggy Pop prowling as he barks out assertions of personal rejuvenation over twinkly saloon bar piano and unhinged flute outbursts. Girls & Boys is a supercharged follow up to their near smash hit Sports, redolent of the tense homoerotic Boys Keep Swinging cover by queer EDM menaces Hirsute Pursuit and (once again) Iggy’s maniacal verse on the Death In Vegas track Aisha. It closes with an unpredictably syrupy cover of a track by John Prine, who passed earlier this year, called In Spite Of Ourselves. Prine’s version was an jaunty outlaw country duet with Iris Dement that here, with guest vocals from Amy Taylor of fellow dissolutes Amyl & The Sniffers, gets slowed to a crawl and turns out to be a bittersweet litany of emotional whimsy recalling the mawkish anti-folk of Moldy Peaches classic Anyone But You.

The sound on Welfare Jazz may be more of the same glam-phetamine trash disko bomp that made the first record so distinctive – a ramshackle wad of low-end guitars that spit and burn like chip pan fires and boisterous oft intoxicated vocals with a surplus of undulating sax – but there’s something else that’s been added to their arsenal, something that was hiding in plain sight all along. The protagonist of these songs may not be all that apologetic as he pontificates of his transgressions, but he is at least man enough to put his grubby hands up and forewarn friends and lovers that he’s a little damaged. It’s a good start.


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