It was 2018 when Viagra Boys first saw prominence within the post-punk scene, garnering love from critics and fans alike due to their unique jazz-tinged post-punk sound. Across ‘Welfare Jazz’s’ predecessor, ‘Street Worms’, the band ridiculed many negative virtues that plague modern society such as addiction, fetishes, not having a care in the world about your future, and materialism just to name a select few. Jumping from topic to topic one song after another, they carried around a sense of humor to steer themselves away from the pretentiousness that can sprout from covering topics such as these.
The most immediately noticeable thing about ‘Welfare Jazz’ in comparison to its predecessor is that it’s more ambitious, taking every wild thing that ‘Street Worms’ did sonically and amplifying it 10 fold. Sometimes this ambition can become overambition and lead to things going awry like on the painfully tacky closer that's a dreadful parody of the classic John Prine song of the same name, this ambition can also lead to some of the band’s best songs, and it does that more often than not. The multi-genre post-punk fusions are now not only limited to jazz, genres such as electronic, country, and psychedelic punk are now much more prevalent as are the inclusion of woodwind instruments. They truly take the “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to their intended sound. These distinctly unique and different sounds are fused so well it actually led to a point where I was wondering question whether I was listening to a synth line or a saxophone.
Highlighting just a few of the stupefyingly great moments across this record, ‘Creatures’ is a song reminiscent of a tune off of Everything Everything’s ‘Re-Animator’ with its glamorous beat that is akin to a synthpop-rock fusion. ‘I Feel Alive’ sounds like a theatrical drug-trip, a sound that works well with its subject matter, containing out-of-synch groaning layers of vocals and a "bizzaro musical" instrumental that consists of somewhat off-kilter guitars following a piano chord progression. ‘6 Shooter’ is a single-song odyssey that goes through many phases ranging from a woozy guitar rager to some shrieking and blaring saxophones to many other insane musical moments in just it's just under five-minute runtime. ‘Into the Sun’ is an odd contrast that was admittedly a bit offputting at first though the trippy and muddy guitar melody works well with Sebastian’s weary and old-man vocal tone, especially seeing the lyrical themes of the track. I won’t spoiler furthermore from this album since there are so many twists and turns, just be prepared for Viagra Boys to do the absolute most when going into this album as it easily has some of my favorite sound play I’ve heard over the past few months.
Going back to the lyrical themes of the album, rather than having a loose and scattered concept of parodying societal issues, ‘Welfare Jazz’ seems focused on two themes in specific: addiction, alongside the bad things that can spawn from it, and economic status. Focusing more on the addiction part, many songs are hellbent on hammering this idea of "addiction killing you or is ruining your life" into your head, something that was presented on 'Street Worms' yet it is expounded upon here. The most persistent form of addiction that appears is drug addiction. Most tracks will play out a story of addiction derailing someone’s life, maybe even showing you what it’s like to be someone who is going through addiction firsthand. Sebastian can be quoted saying that these songs were recorded when he was “in a long-term relationship, taking drugs every day, and being an asshole” and that this record was inspired by him coming to terms with the fact that he had “set the wrong goals” for himself. The lyrical nods to drugs reinforce the avant-garde, psychedelic, and sometimes intentionally messy sound that this album goes for pretty well.
Obviously this album is flawed. The closer is incredibly tacky, annoying, and near unlistenable with the horribly awkward pitch-shifted voices, ‘Toad’ feels a bit empty and repetitive, and 'Girls & Boys' has a bit too many parallels towards 'Sports' off of 'Street Worms'. Putting criticisms on the wayside, though, I must say that 'Welfare Jazz' is one of the most ambitious and enticing post-punk albums I’ve heard in a while even if it isn't better than its predecessor.
Favorite Tracks: Ain’t Nice, Cold Play, Into the Sun, Creatures, 6 Shooter, Secret Canine Agent, I Feel Alive, To the Country
Worst Track: In Spite of Ourselves