Review Summary: Post punk, jazzy saxophones and some lines of speed.
Viagra Boys are one head-scratching act to review. Their rather angular approach to music created some excellent tunes so far, but it already feels as if it pigeonholed them. Anyway, let them figure out their future, until then we can explore the second full length, Welfare Jazz
. I love how these guys remind you that it’s okay to poke fun at the most serious matters even if you hit rock bottom. Whether talking about political, social or mental issues, they acknowledge them and take the piss too. Charismatic front man, Sebastian Murphy plays his wasted role very convincingly, almost to the point where he eclipses the music. Nevertheless, there is more to the band than it might seem at a first glance. They create some really fun, groovy songs that take the post-punk formula into jazzy territories. Underneath its messy appearance, the debut LP Street Worms
was a very tight record. The drum/bass interplay was flawless, leaving a lot of room for the saxophone, guitar and synthesizers to create an often quirky yet rich atmosphere.
doesn’t stray much from its predecessor, but it allows room for a slight sonic expansion. Broadening their horizons, they offer us the stomping, bluesy cut, ‘Into the Sun’ with its raucous vocal lines, followed by the softer, more flamboyant, dive bar piano rocker, ‘I Feel Alive’. It feels slightly off to hear the latter on a Viagra Boys record, however, it’s a decent effort I guess. Meanwhile, the mid-80s Depeche Mode inspired late night confessional, ‘To the Country’ paves the way for the early morning, drunk karaoke album closer, ‘In Spite of Ourselves’. Since Sebastian describes in a brutally honest, self-deprecating style what a drug abusing asshole he was during a previous long-term relationship, this John Prine cover settles things in a delusional yet humorous way. The man recognized he acted like an idiot, so now he can make fun of himself and the respective situation.
I appreciate the attempts to enrich the sonic palette, despite the hit-and-miss nature of the songs mentioned above. Although, as expected, a string of driving rockers form the foundation of the album, keeping the engine running smooth for the most part too. Opening cut ‘Ain’t Nice’ struts with its hip shaking rhythm and Nintendo-like electronic sound scapes. Then, the psychedelia-infused, Elvis rock’n’roll ditty, ‘Toad’ kicks in like a few lines of speed. Murphy chaotically switches between spoken word, croons, snarls and shouting during the entire record like a lunatic. Again the contrasting attitudes makes things interesting, as he occasionally drops some dead serious lyrics amid comical rants. Moving forward, one album highlight is the smooth instrumental, ‘6 Shooter’ where some cool guitar and saxophone leads are backed by steady kraut-like drum patterns and windy synth embellishments. Another is ‘Girls & Boys’, featuring alternating disco beats and smooth bass grooves, complete with dissonant saxophone solos and noisy oscillators. This is probably the closest they got to the infectious ‘Sports’. Ultimately, all the partying and carefree times are interrupted by a harsh comedown. ‘Creatures’ is a more settled, electronic track discussing drug addiction and its crippling effects on you.
Overall, Viagra Boys crafted an album that is the logical next step after the strong debut, Street Worms
. While consolidating their strengths, they are trying to figure out other directions to pursue as well. Some experiments don’t add much to the listening experience, but don’t detract either. The story telling is very up front, yet the confidence and attitude never passes into obnoxious, parody of oneself territory. As a result, Welfare Jazz
remains a tight effort that hopefully acts as a transition to a richer sonic canvas.