Are Viagra Boys the Next Post-Punk Torch Bearers?

Viagra Boys - Welfare Jazz

By K. Jackson Hamrick

With a name like Viagra Boys and the album title Welfare Jazz, the music could either be heavy punk rock, or druggy jazz fusion. On their second full length LP, Viagra Boys make a case for why they should be everyone’s new favorite hardcore, post-punk band. 

Over winter break I finished reading Michael Azzerad’s Our Band Could be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991. The book shows how much rock music has changed and developed since the 80s hardcore movement. While there are certainly bands who could still be classified as hardcore or punk, a certain attitude or spirit has seemed to have disappeared from rock music. There are few bands nowadays who walk on stage fully prepared to make the audience completely hate them. Likewise, amplified by today’s social climate, audiences seem afraid to leave a show with their feelings hurt. 

Stockholm’s Viagra Boys are bringing this original hardcore spirit to the modern age, and doing it in a way where they say, “here you go, we’re just going to play really loud for a while and allude to a few things that might make you write a super negative tweet about us.” But you don’t write that tweet. You realize that you might be feeling more in conversation with a band than you’ve felt in a while. And they ended their record with that John Prine song you sing with your dad sometimes, so how could you really hate them?

Front man Sebastian Murphy has all the traits of your typical punk rock singer, hero: tattooed all over, wears not particularly trendy sunglasses, and on stage is clutching a tall boy Busch Light and remains shirtless. He looks like if Iggy Pop and Travis Barker had a kid. At times his voice is reminiscent of soulful Captain Beefheart, while at others he is more relaxed and channeling something smoother. The comparisons to Nick Cave have probably already begun for him. 

The classic post-punk instrumentation of this group is executed brilliantly. No flashy guitar solos, just power chords and leads that go back and forth between being the catchiest part of the track- or the most eerie. A blend of bass guitar supported by synthesizers creates both a trancey and classic bottom end. The drummer so clearly understands his role as the monotonous groove maker and takes what could be semi typical punk rock and makes it fresh and danceable. 

One of the most exciting parts of this band could be the Archie Shepp esque saxophone from Oskar Karls. The saxophone is either droning in the mix, or the lead instrument. Karls leads are never easily palatable, but their mystery draws in your ear and you’re always wondering when the saxophone will reveal itself next. 

The tracks on this record are a hybrid of satire and something that you can’t help but think is important. “Toad” showcases Murphy having fun with what he can do vocally as he sings as a soulful man trying to make sense of his relationship. The track builds on itself as each band member gradually lets themselves be known. “Aint Nice” serves as the perfect opener and likely will be a calling card for this band as it displays much of what the group is about, and if you’re not feeling it then at least they were authentic for their introduction. “Girls and Boys” is their version of a dancefloor hit and will maybe be too intense once you’re trapped in a mosh pit with strobe lights once the stupid pandemic is over. 

The album ends with “To the Country,” and their cover of John Prine’s, “In Spite of Ourselves.” The former catches you off guard as the band throws their version of a country tune at you. It’s not until you hear their cover of Prine’s classic duet (this version featuring Amy Taylor) that you think this band might not be a joke. This band leaves you wondering if you should’ve taken them more seriously the whole time. 

So, will Viagra Boys be the next post-punk icons? Honestly, I doubt it. But this band is worth paying attention to purely on the idea that you really believe that they don’t care if you pay attention. In that spirit, they carry on and legitimize this essential essence of punk music. 

Viagra Boys are from Stockholm, Sweden and are signed to YEAR0001.

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