Viagra Boys - Welfare Jazz

7.6/10

Favorite Track: "Ain't Nice" Least Favorite Track: "Into The Sun"



If the name of the band is any indication, Viagra Boys are a bunch of oddballs. Their debut album Street Worms had a mysterious ethos to it, mixing elements of funk, new-wave, jazz, and post-punk to create a strangely entrancing sonic journey. The song “Sports” from the record prides itself on its seemingly incoherent lyrics being sung over a driving bassline. “Baseball/Basketball/Weiner dog” sings Sebastian Murphy in his hypnotic baritone timbre, leaving the listener entirely confused but simultaneously intrigued by the masterful post-punk instrumental. When you have a band such as Viagra Boys, who rely on their unpredictability as an asset, it becomes a futile effort to attempt to estimate what they will do next, and their 2021 effort Welfare Jazz is further proof that Viagra Boys are one of the most volatile acts in modern music.


Welfare Jazz is not entirely a departure from the signature sound Viagra Boys managed to come up with on Street Worms; instead, it feels like an evolution of their sound with a heavier focus on tinting the dirty post-punk style with lighter elements of jazz to offset their original instrumental palette. This creates a record that is somewhat unsettling in its neutrality, it revels in conflicting the listener with seemingly oppositional musical ideas. Take “In Spite of Ourselves” for example, a cover of the song by the late John Prine. The original version is purely lovestruck with no pomp or frills, but Viagra Boys employ sonic elements of electronica behind the light acoustic guitar to create a more double-edged sword of emotion. Where the original sounded like appreciating all of the strange things your partner does, the Viagra Boys re-imagination sounds much more backhanded, like disliking parts of your partner but loving them anyways. It’s a strange sentiment, but works surprisingly well in the greater context of the record.


While Street Worms definitely employed elements of jazz, it never explicitly used the genre as a trope. Welfare Jazz, however, stays true to its name, mixing the elements of jazz seamlessly but subtly into the threads of the album on tracks like “6 Shooter” and “Ain’t Nice”. The former runs like a basic jam session through and through, with driving basslines giving way to a manic saxophone solo and roaring guitars to boot. The track is groovy, fun, accessible, and is definitely a highlight on the record in terms of musicality. “Ain’t Nice” utilizes another plain bassline and loud, pounding drums, and a fantastic saxophone solo towards the end, but what truly shines on this track are the vocals. Sebastian’s performance on this track is manic, loud, and somewhat menacing, shouting the refrain of “I ain’t nice!” over and over again. Both tracks run very aggressively and provide a layer of spunk that is somehow unmatched by even the majority of Street Worms, but provides a jazzier approach to the sound with added saxophone.


There are also plenty of catchy ideas all over Welfare Jazz that leave a lot of potential for Viagra Boys’ future. The track “Toad” is a fun song about leaving a relationship, essentially “hopping out like a toad”. The lyrical content of the track is witty, the instrumental is generally fun, and despite the structure running a little formulaic and long, it contributes to the album quite well. “Secret Canine Agent” plays up the goofiness of the band in potentially their most bizarre and off-the-wall track yet, following the misadventures of a dog going undercover. Lyrics like “Looks like he gave me a signal/When he lifted his paw/That means the beetle has landed/Tell all the rest of the dogs” are so much fun it is nearly impossible not to be enamored by the hilarity of it all. Finally, “I Feel Alive” is easily one of the best tracks on the record, with a couple lumbering piano chords pounding through the mix, accentuating Sebastian’s drunken rants about feeling like a new person. The track is oddly beautiful and painfully unsettling due to the ambiguity of where he gets this newfound self-worth from.

However, more often than not Welfare Jazz pales in comparison to their debut and is a bit overly erratic in style. Tracks like “To The Country” and “Into The Sun” feel very underwritten on the instrumental side, while “Girls & Boys” is all over the place lyrically. Each track varies in style, “Girls & Boys” exhibiting classic Viagra Boys mania but not providing anything new or interesting musically or lyrically. “To The Country” is a perplexing country track that utilizes a simple guitar melody and piano splashes, but nothing about the instrumental manages to grab the listener. “Into The Sun” is probably the least interesting track on the record, nearly everything about the song being painfully sleepy and uninteresting except for Sebastian’s vocals. Unfortunately, the comatose sound palette of the song doesn’t compliment his very powerful vocal delivery in the slightest, leaving the track feeling like nothing more than missed potential. Thankfully for the band, none of the duds in the tracklist manage to take away from the greater experience of the record too much.


Nevertheless, Welfare Jazz is a great follow-up for Viagra Boys. Instead of coming out with a second fantastic post-punk record, the band takes time re-inventing themselves. This record feels like the perfect bridge between a fantastic debut and a truly special third record. Despite a few lacklustre moments, Viagra Boys continue to impress with their well-produced, expertly played, and incredibly enthralling brand of post-punk that feels unique to them alone. No other band is capable of making a record as strange as Welfare Jazz and still see commercial success, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.

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