“If you don’t like it / Well, babe – I’ll see you later,” Viagra Boys frontman Sebastian Murphy taunts in his raspy drawl on ‘Ain’t Nice’, the opening track of their second album ‘Welfare Jazz’. Since their beginnings in 2015, the Stockholm five-piece have been all about dirty, jazz-infused post-punk and reckless onstage antics that have seen them become shit-kicking bad lads the post-punk world.
As much as that is their true form, it’s not the only thing going for them. Rather than playing up to their elegantly wasted personas, ‘Welfare Jazz’ sees them sidestep any so-called second album slump. There’s no huge reinvention of sound – except for some country-ish sounds, typified by the Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn-style call-and-answer ‘In Spite Of Ourselves’, a punk hoedown with Amyl and the Sniffers‘ Amy Taylor – but a definite reinvention of mindset.
If 2018 debut ‘Street Worms’ was your party-loving, gobby little brother, ‘Welfare Jazz’ is the well-to-do, country-loving cousin who’s ready to buckle up and not look back. Crap relationships and the numbness of inebriation are all in the rearview mirror.
As with the band’s earlier offerings, satire’s the word here. Take the tumbling break-up confessional ‘Toad’; borderline brutal in its approach, the song finds Murphy’s initial husky compliments to his soon-to-be ex completely eroded by his wingmen’s unrelenting affirmations that “You don’t need no woman”, as Viagra Boys tease dance appeal with jaded sax screeches and psych-funk synths.
Despite the small slither of hope coursing through each track from the upbeat country twangs, ‘Creatures’ reaches itself right down into the pits of disaster. The gloomy images painted of an underworld where “we don’t need sleep” offers a stark contrast to the song’s glittering synths. Alternative dancefloor filler ‘Girls & Boys’ is a self-aware throwback to their party days with some Nick Cave / The Birthday Party-style burst of dissonance thrown in, while ‘I Feel Alive’ is the motivational wake-up track we all need. “Jesus Christ, I feel alive!,” Murphy announces on this ode to sobriety, which doubles as a paean to positivity.
In traversing sobriety, the end of relationships, “being an asshole” – as Murphy put it in a recent statement – and, strangely, a love of dogs (see spoken-word oddities ‘This Old Dog’ and ‘Best In Show II’ and absurdist punk rock stomper ‘Secret Canine Agent’), Viagra Boys have kicked off 2021 as they seemingly mean to go on: by charging headfirst in the madness of it all. Really, what else is there to do?
Release date: January 8
Record label: YEAR0001