Album Reviews

Viagra Boys: ‘Cave World’ Review – Swedish Punks Evoke Insanity and Instability

Viagra Boys’ ‘Cave World’ is Music Feeds’ Album of the Week. Giuliano Ferla reviews.

My introduction to Viagra Boys was from YouTube. After many misses, the algorithm finally spewed out something weird and interesting in the form of their 2018 Shrimp Sessions, a live set recorded from what appears to be a very cold and very active fish market, replete with forklifts packing crates into lorries.

The band was moody and serious. The energy coming off my computer screen was palpable. I felt the magic of discovery, the same way I felt as a teenager discovering MGMT. But this was so much cooler. I was absorbed.

Lead singer Sebastian Murphy wears dark sunglasses throughout the set. He paces like a malevolent spirit hovering over a band that is motorik-tight, anchoring both Murphy’s inebriated energy and the bleat and honk of Oskar Carls’ sax. Murphy, who appears to have that kind of self-possessed lack of self-regard that I sometimes wish I had, hits his cues. There’s something mean and unsmiling about him in the video. There’s no chitchat. It’s tight and business-like.

Their debut album Street Worms had already been released so I started listening. They sounded like Mark E. Smith fronting Devo. I’d not heard anything quite like it at the time, and it was exactly the kind of combination that I didn’t even know I was craving.

They followed up Street Worms with Welfare Jazz in 2021 which, admittedly, I skipped. There was something reminiscent of Terry Richardson about the whole aesthetic. Loose. And we all know how he panned out, so that kept me from getting too close to the record.

Cave World

So now we come to their latest, Cave World, and a post-pandemic planet Earth that appears to be picking up just where it left off in terms of insanity and instability. Viagra Boys is maybe the kind of catharsis needed.

The starting-gun snare hits of the album’s opener ‘Baby Criminal’ instantly remind me of the intro to Tyrannosaurus Hives. And maybe the comparison between these two bands doesn’t end with their Swedishness. They’re both well-versed in satirising rock’n’roll, and Viagra Boys, like The Hives, play the part so well.

Case in point: ‘Punk Rock Loser’. Murphy has expressed a desire to mess around with his image and does so with mordant effect on ‘Punk Rock Loser’, a song ostensibly about the kind of loose-unit party-boy musician who believes his own press release.

“I’m loose,” he sings. “I’m really cool.” The album in its lightest moments has Murphy snorting bags and stealing jackets. He might actually do these things, but there’s also an element of self-aware posturing. “If that’s the way you see me, I’ll write a song exactly that way,” Murphy is quoted as saying about ‘Punk Rock Loser.’ “But that’s not the life that I live. I just hang out with my fiancée and watch movies.”

Viagra Boys – ‘Punk Rock Loser’

With another spate of mass shootings in the USA, I found myself flicking through various Reddit special interest groups that would all comfortably fit into r/gun-nuts. I found what I expected: hypocrisy, contradiction, delusion. But behind all the self-righteousness, there was an overwhelming fear among these groups that the world is in a state of decay. The good old days are gone, never to return, and it is the right and responsibility of every individual to protect themselves – and to do so with extreme prejudice.

There’s something in the psyche here, the desire to make sense of the world, to cut the world into digestible pieces, to simplify into us versus them; reductionism. And this is also Cave World at its most interesting, when it’s dealing with the more sinister and dangerously stupid aspects of humanity.

‘Return to Monke’ and ‘The Cognitive Trade-Off Hypothesis’ — two songs that push nostalgic, things-were-better-in-my-day logic to the extreme — take us back to when we were apes and “We lived a life / Of simplicity / Eatin on bugs and little berries.”

Maybe what underpins all this is the desire to make sense of a world that is completely fucked. The overturning of Roe v Wade, mass shootings, 5G, flat earth, climate change, coronavirus, war.

Viagra Boys – ‘Troglodyte’

It’s summed up best in Cave World’s standout track, ‘Troglodyte’. Danceable and front-footed, with syncopation reminiscent of ‘Girl U Want’ but darker and with more amphetamines. “He goes to work on his computer / He thinks about his gun at home / One day he’s gonna be a shooter / He’s gonna bring his gun to work.”

These lyrics might be considered prescient if they weren’t so every day. The troglodyte, the prehistoric cave dweller, is now connected to the internet, where he (and let’s face it, it’s always a he) can harden his views, can internalise his extremism, can share his manifesto on 4chan and can live stream his kill-spree.

It’s a cave world in the eyes of Viagra Boys, and the cave has become so enormous it might be mistaken for an echo chamber.

Viagra Boys’ Cave World is out on Friday, 8th July via Year0001.

Further Reading

The Hives Frontman Just Put His Hand Up To Replace Brian Johnson In AC/DC

Dry Cleaning Announce New Album ‘Stumpwork’, Share Video For ‘Don’t Press Me’

Alex Cameron Continues To Tackle The Big Topics On New Single ‘K Hole’

Patti Smith: 10 Essential Tracks

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