Welfare Jazz by Viagra Boys album review by Leslie Chu. The Swedish band forthcoming release comes out on January 8, via YEAR0001

YEAR0001

8.5

Viagra Boys

Welfare Jazz

Viagra Boys made their name singing about misanthropes, self-destructive characters, and toxic men on their cheeky, absurdist 2018 debut, Street Worms. But the characters in the Swedish punks’ follow-up, Welfare Jazz, have changed their ways. At least they’re trying to.

Welfare Jazz contains plenty of callbacks to Street Worms, including the latter’s dog motif. “Best in Show II” is a sequel to – you guessed it – “Best in Show.” On both interludes, singer Sebastian Murphy barks like a sports commentator. His zany vocals on “Girls & Boys” harken Viagra Boys’ breakout song, “Sports.” “Secret Canine Agent” and “Ain’t Nice” feature Viagra Boys’ signature pulse-pounding urgency. “6 Shooter” is Welfare Jazz’s answer to Street Worms’ “Amphetanarchy”: both are industrial instrumental workouts.

There’s plenty new on Welfare Jazz, though, and that’s when the album’s at its best. Skronky sax has always been a beloved part of Viagra Boys’ arsenal, but on the 32-second “Cold Play, it’s played solo and simplistically, making for the band’s purest jazz moment.

Opening with a haunted spoken passage, the brooding, urgent “Toad” has Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds written all over it; I can taste the salty air and smell the oily planks. Flute flutters throughout the lumbering “I Feel Alive,” but piano chords plunk down like anchors heaved overboard. The mid-tempo “Creatures” is built on an infectious, neon synth line. The song is as sleek as Viagra Boys have ever been, despite its blustering sax interruptions.

The plodding “Into the Sun” is the first hint of the country twang that tinges Welfare Jazz. “I would do anything to take back the things that I’ve done,” sings the narrator, a former outlaw. Like the band’s characters of songs past, this one has fallen into a dark place. Unlike the others, though, this one is repentant. He’s not making excuses, like in “Down in the Basement,” whose narrator’s wife busts him sneaking off to engage in BDSM. “I was just trying something new!” he pleads. On “Into the Sun,” though, the narrator offers: “I’ve taken everything and rided off into the sun. You’ll never see me again, if that’s all that you truly want. I’ll stop all my rambling and playing around. I’d stop drinking and gambling to earn back your love.” Then a piercing, sun-speckled instrumental passage sets in. It hits you like the dawn’s first rays through a tattered curtain after an all-night bender.

The narrator on the second last track, “To the Country,” yearns for escape to a simpler, more peaceful life. The song is a perfect encapsulation of one’s journey from troubled to content. Welfare Jazz ends with a wonky cover of John Prine‘s “In Spite Ourselves,” featuring Amy Taylor of Australian rockers Amyl and the Sniffers. Following “To the Country,” though, “In Spite Ourselves” feels like a coda.

Viagra Boys are no strangers to slowing things down, but they often do so when their characters have hit rock bottom. Rather than dim moments of despair, though, on Welfare Jazz, these quieter passages are moments of clarity. Viagra Boys tone down the adrenaline, like they have something else they’re living for now. They’re chasing peace, stability, and a sound mind. They aren’t all the way there yet, but with Welfare Jazz, they’ve made a huge stride.

Order Welfare Jazz here