Viagra Boys find the sweetness in self-destruction on Welfare Jazz | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Viagra Boys find the sweetness in self-destruction on Welfare Jazz

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Viagra Boys’ career as acid-punk raconteurs has been fueled by mutually assured destruction—they’ve pumped their bodies full of illicit substances and squared off with toxic masculinity to a frenzied backbeat. But what happens when you tire of your old enemies as you rage toward a better world? If the Stockholm five-piece’s new album Welfare Jazz is any indication, you go toe-to-toe with your own worst self. The gloriously sloppy follow-up to 2018’s grimy, groovy Street Worms is full of sax skronks, gummy bass lines, and vocalist Sebastian Murphy rambling like a madman about wiener dogs and dope.

Thanks to production help from Matt Sweeney (who’s played guitar with Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Run the Jewels), Justin and Jeremiah Raisen (Yves Tumor, Kim Gordon, Sky Ferreira), Pelle Gunnerfeldt (the Hives, the Knife), and Daniel Fagerström, Viagra Boys have added polish to their postpunk pastiche, and they counter their nervy bravado with instrumental interludes and synth-fueled sheen. Welfare Jazz was made in the shadow of a breakup, and Murphy sings of surrendering to deadbeat urges (“Ain’t Nice”) and banking on the bleary-eyed promise of the morning after a drug-fueled hookup (“Into the Sun”). While Viagra Boys have cultivated their Beefheartian punk stunting, they leave plenty of room for surprises on Welfare Jazz, most notably a cover of John Prine’s “In Spite of Ourselves,” which features the nasal punk drawl of Amyl & the Sniffers bandleader Amy Taylor. Juxtapositions of sweet and scandalous—gambling as the sun sets, cocaine binges in the countryside, home-cooked breakfasts after sloppy hookups—make the world of Welfare Jazz aspirational for Viagra Boys and their after-hours brethren. In the process of facing their demons, Viagra Boys have created an amphetamine dream fit for their side of the gutter.   v

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