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Album Review: Viagra Boys // Cave World

Sweden’s Viagra Boys have been hailed for their brash humour and satire, their lyrics gristlier and more inquisitive than many of the contemporaries in the post-punk genre.

With their first two albums being entitled Welfare Jazz and Street Worms, you can guess that their lyrics are often visceral and hard-hitting. They routinely attack and depict anti-social behaviours, prejudice and destruction. Viagra Boys express a macabre sense of sentimentality, with their recent duet with Amyl and the Sniffers, ‘In Spite of Ourselves’, showing their unique take on romanticism.

Equally, their third record Cave World ruminates on the new covid-tinged reality of post-lockdown life; with it’s political extremism, conspiracy theorists and street violence. It seems like a musical epitome of the internet-generated turmoil of modern life, personified and encapsulated in a collection of tracks. Viagra Boys’ intentions are very clear with this album, but whether it always succeeds is questionable.

The opening track ‘Baby Criminal’ is held together by Sebastian Murphy’s harmonic screams and snarls. Sometimes the dramatics of his vocals, is reminiscent of Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Picture Show; his growling having a carnality to match the lyricism. The song’s narrative is held together by vivid storytelling.

A lingering criticism throughout the rest of the album, is the band’s incessant desire to be controversial and vulgar, letting any impactful subject matter slip under their catchy lyrics and jarring vocals. The lack of lyrical nuance, means that the tracks become more like posters for what the band are singing about, lacking much real depth.. Unfortunately “Used be a baby now he’s a criminal”, doesn’t hold much weight when not being lifted by punchy instrumentation and the emotive aggression of a punk crowd.

That doesn’t mean that the lyrics don’t have any validity. The word ‘troglodyte’ rarely rears its head in a song, never mind being it’s title and main hook. And it does have some uncanny appeal. And feels fitting for the would-be white-collar, conspiracy theorist shooter who becomes the songs protagonist. ‘Troglodyte’ brings to the fore the inferiority of these ‘macho’, to put it lightly, men who are allowed to parade as epitomes of masculinity due to the second amendment.

‘Punk Rock Loser’ is the stand out, and probably the most accessible to Viagra Boys newcomers. It has a 1970s rock veneer. It’s endlessly cool, mainly owing to Murphy’s bored delivery – similar to the drawls recognisable in artists like Baxter Dury or Trippy. He appears to be gracing us with his presence, and in some psychological mind trick, we believe that he is. The rhyming of the lyricism is hypnotic – especially the patterning of lines like “low-hanging fruit”. As he says himself; “he’s really cool”.

‘Creepy Crawlers’ is equally as interesting. It crawls right inside your head, almost like a bug infesting itself in your ear. Ironic as Murphy opens the song with a spew of theories about insects in vaccines. In this world, and unfortunately in pockets of ours, these medicinal bugs are collecting our internal information. These bizarre conspiracies expend to include the infamous lizard elites, collecting unvaccinated children. For their perfect blood – what else.

Perhaps Viagra Boys will be the first post-punk band your grandparents will approve of. Especially if they’re a frequent watcher of GB News. (Don’t worry the satire will be certainly lost on them).

Cave World’s industrial sounds can be quite difficult to listen to at times, the intensity of the track making it more of an endurance test than melodic retreat.. Which may be the idea.

Often, however, when someone has to say ‘that’s the idea!’, there is an implication the idea hasn’t been fully fulfilled. Some tracks lose a musical and structural backbone, the catchy phrases like ‘lizard gills’ acting as a placeholder to explain and piece together the track.

They do present some semblance of balance in the album. Following track, ‘Cognitive Trade-Off Hypothesis’, for example is relatively calming in comparison to ‘Creepy Crawlers’, feeling like a groovy comedown from the chaos of the previous. It has some interesting ruminations on evolution, a concept rarely – if ever – broached through punk before.

The end of the LP comes full circle, with the over-the-top conclusive song ‘Return to Monke’: which acts a takedown of the select population this album sought out to challenge. Much like the rest of the album, ‘Return to Monke’ feels like it was created by, and for, our primal urges. And perhaps that is how this release should be viewed, for its standalone pieces are neither nuanced nor overly poignant.

Cave World lives in a habitual ‘as-is’ state, not leaving room for any analysis or evaluation, but a satiric mirror to what the band have decided is the ‘worst of the worst’. Viagra Boys present themselves as the mocking voyeurs of our nut-job, hyper-sensitive society without much intellectual consideration alongside it. Peers of the Swedes have relished in enhancing these anarchist lyrical tendencies into something more considered, and therefore impactful, in recent years. 

Viagra Boys have the capability of doing so, yet they are not realised in Cave World.

photo credit: Fredrik Bengsston

Author avatar
Matt Ganfield

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