Viagra Boys Tear Themselves Open on Cathartic 'Welfare Jazz'

BY Sarah MorrisonPublished Jan 6, 2021

Viagra Boys have aggressively explored their past struggles, negative habits and self-defeats. Life as a musician is a road filled with temptation in multiple forms — it can be a hard lifestyle to find sanctuary in. On Welfare Jazz, the Swedish post-punks open up this conversation and let out a sincere sigh from start to finish.

Opening track "Ain't Nice" is classic Viagra Boys: cacophonous and misanthropic. Lead singer Sebastian Murphy's tumultuous past takes a front seat, cohesively melding with the song's melodic tone. The song explores the theme of self-progression, projecting the instinctual thoughts that arise while stuck inside an unhealthy state of mind: "Well, trust me honey, you don't want me / I'll start screaming if you look at me funny." For those who have spiralled into a person they no longer recognize, "Ain't Nice" encapsulates the moment of truth to seek change.

A life of self-sabotage can be hard to admit, and Murphy has given himself the chance to depict the reality of his choices. The apologetic and intimate "Into the Sun" finds Murphy ready to confess his wrongdoings. "What kind of person have I become," he pleads. "Now that I can see everything, the way that it was, I would do anything to take back the things I have done." It's the first time Murphy has peeled back the layers to reveal a fuller, more emotional connection from someone who has, until now, given off the appearance of a charismatic, stumbling drunk: "I promise I've changed a lot, I've destroyed the old me."

Further into the record, Murphy demonstrates other areas of his life where he has begun to find success, championing his strengths and accomplishments through sobriety. In "I Feel Alive," Murphy is proud of change and triumph, finding power in emotional and mental success: "I haven't felt like this in quite a while / Feel like a new man, yeah, such a better guy." 

The album occasionally takes the foot off the gas, to great effect. As Viagra Boys have done on previous releases, Welfare Jazz also features a handful of interludes, a breath of fresh air from the smoky, heavy din of its basement mosh pits. The album ends with a cover of John Prine's "In Spite of Ourselves," featuring Aussie rocker Amy Taylor of Amyl and the Sniffers. Expanding the band's palette of musical expressions, the song's country twang and call-and-response vocals showcase promising new versatility from the band.

Welfare Jazz is, at its core, an open letter of acceptance and the resurrection of a lost soul. Murphy gives himself the chance to be vulnerable, to free himself from any regret he might have once held onto from his past. While still lighthearted and filled with humour, it's a massive shift from previous releases, both musically and lyrically, with plenty of hints of more to come.

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