Welfare Jazz is a progressive tweak of the punk ethos, embracing much of the genre’s texture but reconceiving of its messaging.
Viagra Boys’ sophomore effort Welfare Jazz — coming after their debut Street Worms — is a messy post-punk experience that samples elements from myriad different genres in service of its essential aims — basically, to craft a kind of controlled, celebratory chaos. From saxophone solos to a John Prine cover, there’s a little bit of everything on the record, the group firmly in fast-and-loose mode, and it all successfully adds to their loud, nearly anarchic sound.
From their inception in 2015, Viagra Boys have toed the line of “punk-rock sleazy” and just regular, old-fashioned sleazy. The whole thing mostly seems to be an act, as the band has openly stated that they act in protest of toxic masculinity and general assholery, a trend that’s become more common in the punk world of late (IDLES likewise come to mind as a band subverting such toxicities). It’s in this act of protest that their maniacally slow-pacing and genre-bending songs start to make sense: a selective acceptance of certain punk textures while outright indicting any implicit negative qualities. “Secret Canine Agent” is, on its face, a mostly silly song, but the heavy synthesizers and thundering drum beats work in tandem with sloppy guitar licks to highlight the contrasting elements the band is trying to present. Opening track “Ain’t Nice” is a contending with/admission of being the asshole in a relationship — (“You ain’t that nice, but you got a nice face/ Hope I can fit all my shit at your place… / If you don’t like it, well babe, I’ll see you later” — but with an explicit acknowledgment of how unacceptable such behavior is (“Ain’t nice/ I ain’t nice”). The loud, growling vocals transition immediately into a raucous, 30-second saxophone solo simply titled “Cold Play,” yet another in a number of indicators that the Boys can’t be bothered to take themselves too seriously.
The album’s final tracks, “To the Country” and “In Spite of Ourselves” (the latter being a cover of the classic John Prine track with Amyl and the Sniffers’ Amy Taylor featured), find the Swedish band leaning heavily into southern twangy sounds, and are fitting punctuation marks for the album, managing to remain respectful while engaging in playful mimicry. It’s this energy and waggishness that makes Viagra Boys such an intriguing entity, and Welfare Jazz is waiting in the wings to be played live in the sweatiest, stickiest rooms across the country. The band has already expressed that this is their hope and intent in the coming year, and if their sophomore record is any indication, the future is looking like a damn good time.
Published as part of Album Roundup — January 2021 | Part 2.