Viagra Boys - Welfare Jazz (YEAR0001)
The Swedish band's second album is a party record captured while cleaning up the mess, right before the intervention.
Sweden's Viagra Boys have built a reputation over the last five years for their wild live shows and general hedonistic behavior, with most of that focused on very tattooed frontman Sebastian Murphy. The debauchery gave their debut album a genuine seediness but it, and those live shows, also made you wonder what kind of toll it had on them. Quite a bit, apparently, as the band's second album lays out. “We wrote these songs at a time when I had been in a long-term relationship, taking drugs every day, and being an asshole,” Murphy recalls. “I didn't really realize what an asshole I was until it was too late, and a lot of the record has to do with coming to terms with the fact that I'd set the wrong goals for myself.”
Welfare Jazz is still a pretty awesome party record, but it's one seen from the "what did I do?" vantage point of the next morning, looking at yourself in the cold light of day, cleaning up all the cigarette butts, crumpled beer cans and the pizza on the turntable. "What kind of person have I become," Murphy sings on "Into the Sun" over a burnt-out beat. "The ghost of an outlaw who was captured and hung / Now that I can see everything the way that it was / I would do anything to take back the things that I’ve done."
Sobering as the record sometimes is, it's still a Viagra Boys album -- wild, wooly and always nearly off the rails. It's also a little closer to their live sound which, veers more towards Devo and less straight-up punk. Working with a few different producers -- Matt Sweeney (Chavez, Run the Jewels), Justin and Jeremiah Raisen (Kim Gordon and Sky Ferreira), and Pelle Gunnerfeldt and Daniel Fagerström (The Hives, The Knife) -- they allow synths to play a much larger role, though the instruments sound like they've been dragged through the gutter a bit. Prime example: "Ain't Nice," which is a perfect album opener, lurching fitfully like trying to start an old clunker till it all kicks into gear, shot forward with bloopy keyboards, fuzzy bass, skronked-out sax and Murphy's blown-out wails detailing what he'd be like to live with. "I’ll borrow your stuff and never put it back / I’m kinda hungry can you give me a snack?"
The shiny, metallic "Creatures" could be an LCD Soundsystem track, musically, though James Murphy would probably never admit to being a bottom-feeder who steals copper. The punky disco songs are all pretty great, especially "Girls & Boys" which barrels down the line between ripper and banger while being a pretty damning portrait of out-of-control male behavior. The dark, romantic sleazoid streak that ran through Street Worms rears its head here too, like on the disquieting "To the Country," where a man thinks moving to greener pastures will solve all his problems, and on the juke joint junkie jam "I Feel Alive." Murphy lays off the faux redneck accent this time around, though he does unleash it on the genuinely sweet, slightly twisted cover of John Prine's "In Spite of Ourselves" with Amyl & The Sniffers' Amy Taylor playing the part originated by Iris Dement.
If Welfare Jazz doesn't have anything as immediate as Street Worms' single "Sports" (which bordered on novelty and wore out its welcome quick), it's an overall much better album that finds Viagra Boys growing up just a little but still leaving a hell of a mess.