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Viagra Boys - Welfare Jazz: Review


Punk rock has gone through various phases, dependent on the stratosphere they envelope. It went from depressing and archaic, to a more pop-centric fusion, and today the space is for most independent artists who have made them their own. And that is what Swedish postmodern punk rock band Viagra Boys does on their sophomore album, Welfare Jazz. Like their first album Street Worms, the album shares themes of political-social contrasts and isolation/love, while diving into an array of chaos and balance within certain tracks. This array of rustic-and archaic improvisational jazz overtures morph the atmospheric punk album into this feeling like it is a relic of the past.


Punk has always had a melodic repoitar, which has been akin to their deviation in approach. This was certainly the case with Joy Division, before their transcendence into more synth centric rock. Viagra Boys embolden that melody behind eloquent groove lines that brings the range of jazz influence, along with Oskar and his saxophone. Sebastian Murphy (lead singer) and Benjamin Vallé (guitarist) contrast that nature by evoking the rough trade offs in riffs and song construction that doesn’t usually follow the standard song model.


Welfare Jazz delivers the kind of archaic comfortability that is seen so rarely, like the lack of integrity in the Sex Pistols gave to their performances. It’s a craft and the lead singer makes sure the delivery of the songs, even when some feel more lackluster than the rest. There are many unique takes on various jazz styles like blues jazz and lounge jazz, while enveloping amazing improvisational jazz saxophone.


The opening number, “Ain’t Right,” a rudimentary hard rock angst anthem, explodes with archaic instrument playing and a consistent strength in Sebastian Murphy’s escalating raspy vocals. It adds a lot to tracks that have eye popping synchronicity like "I Feel Alive."


There is this constant to this type of delivery on certain tracks that encompass it, but when it doesn’t it is because Sebastian Murphy is creating different array of styles in the vocals.


Unfortunately it doesn’t work all the way through with some tracks coming across underwhelming, like “Creatures,” whose allegorical verbiage is a very broad take on inescapable poverty amassed from being seen as underwater dwellers. Not even my love of synths and jazz could make this song anything special. It’s a simple jazz rock tune that’s punk undertones do not stand out and lets the center rhythm drown in simplicity.


However, it isn’t like “In Spite of Ourselves,” a duet that feels off from the lineage of the album - start to finish. It does have fun with its ever changing jazz like style, from rock to a more country punk angle.


Other middling tracks don’t carry the same gravitas as 75% of the album, like the simple and forced, but at times fun, “Secret Canine Agent.” It has saxophonist, Oskar Carls, going trigger happy and it's fun to hear. His best comes about in the synchronization of the layers on the song “Toad,” which hits you from various directions from everyone and the end result is a cathartic and slight satirical take on drug addiction and isolation.

With many things working great on the surface, Welfare Jazz is a step into an ever growing presence in the punk world. Whether it remains tame - compared to other tracks - or elevates its style tenfold with great mixing, there is a lot here to admire and go back to.


7.5/10



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