For those of you reading that haven’t heard anything by Swedish band Viagra Boys before; I think you’re in for a helluva treat! “Welfare Jazz” was my introduction to this band, and going in completely blind I had no idea what to expect. The first thing that caught my eye was the label: YEAR0001. When I see this label, my mind automatically goes to Yung Lean, Sadboys, Drain Gang - all alternative rap artists from Sweden with a very distinct style that is pretty polarising, (though I happen to really like it for the most part). Also, the name: ‘VIAGRA BOYS’. I don’t know if this was meant to be taken seriously, or why the hell you’d name your artistic project after a blue pill that makes floppy men happy but ok... it’s Punk-y I guess. So once again going into this, 0 expectations whatsoever.
Aaaaand I was blown away. This is is a very, very well constructed and executed Art Punk album, with tons of grooves, heavy bass and carefree rhythms. It’s also straightaway one of my favourite releases from the YEAR0001 catalogue. It’s prompted me to revisit their previous work, and I’ll surely be covering it at some point in the future, but enough about that! I wanna talk about “Welfare Jazz”.
This entire album sounds like one drunken night a working class teenager has with his pet dog as his only companion. The lyrics are very simple and straightforward, which is a good thing since they allow for the most part the driving bass and half-electronic half-electric melodies to take a centre stage in the mix. And they carry this entire project for me since I just found them so instantly enjoyable. Time will tell if the sound of the album will hold up in the future, but something tells me that it will go just as hard years from now - the music is just THAT irresistible.
Another thing that makes this a very... unique listen is just the way the songs are written scream let’s enjoy our place in society. Even if we’re the bottom of the barrel! There is no illusions of grandeur on “Welfare Jazz”, no false hopes or promises. It’s quite literally: a jazzy album designed for people on welfare. And during the COVID19 pandemic with so many of us unemployed and at an all time low: it’s VERY appropriate! This isn't music for underdogs or weekenders but music for those who have truly given up, who haven't recently moved to the gutter but have been living here this whole time. And for that, I commend it. It reminds me of the parties in the 1920s when folks used to get wasted during the prohibition era. Same energy here.
My absolute highlights are the songs “Creatures” which has such a classic Post-Punk feel to it, an earwormy groove and a memorable chorus which has me reaching for repeat on every listen. Then immediately afterwards “6 Shooter”, an instrumental cut that had me fearing for my furniture by the end of it. Oozing with energy and begging to be heard live, this track goes the absolute hardest for me. “Girls & Boys” sounds super meme-able, with that ridiculous shrimp sound and the retro deep ad-libs making it sound like a disco 80s throwback yet maintaining it’s sound as fresh in 2021. Very pleasant to hear and a very distinct track, potentially a single!
Also a mention deserves “To The Country” which is a track that I enjoyed tons, but I just wish was taken a bit further. It genuinely sounds like an American Country song, from a bunch of Swedes! It’s a song about escaping, and it sounds like it came from a Western movie that had it playing while the cowboy was riding his horse into the sunset. The closer “In Spite of Ourselves” is a great cover of a John Prine cut, incredibly creative with some hilarious lyrics. It’s safe to say that by the end of “Welfare Jazz”, the record has transitioned fully into Swedish Country, which is extremely strange but it works!
Unfortunately it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There is an extensive amount of interludes that weren’t warranted as well as a couple of semi-filler tracks that make this album feel disjointed just a tad. I guess it could be seen as a reflection of the meandering quality of Jazz as a genre, and the ability to go everywhere without boundaries. However here, I feel like there is an anchoring idea or sound that is just missing, and that leads to songs feeling that they don’t belong on the same project - both thematically and conceptually.
Luckily, the songs are damn enjoyable, so this can be overlooked. But it is messy without payout, which may sound like a nit-pick, but realistically it makes the record harder to remember and have the need to return to. And as an artist you don’t really want that. It leads to the playlist curse where only a couple of your songs are repeatedly listened to, and that leaves the subconscious opinion to categorise the complete album as “just okay”. However that is a misconception based on the fact that the anchor making the tracks cohesive to one another, is largely missing. “Girls & Boys” sounds nothing like “Creatures” to the point where you may even think they were done by 2 different artists! But I digress.
I highly recommend this album. It’s tons of fun to listen to, and I can guarantee that if you’re even a bit into Post-Punk, you’ll find a track that you enjoy. “Welfare Jazz” is silly, not classy in the slightest and all over the place. But for me - that’s it’s charm. Like I said, it’s one long drunken night with your pet dog in a caravan somewhere. But life still feels good regardless.
I guess this is why Green Day doesn’t like Swedish songwriters eh?