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Viagra Boys: Street Worms

In the mid-1990s, wrestling went into storyline overdrive, welcoming a new cast of cheesy antiheroes, convoluted backstories, and gimmicks too silly for even a teenage drama club. Perhaps nobody did this better than Mick Foley, who wrestled as three distinct personae: Dude Love, Cactus Jack, and Mankind. When Cactus Jack made his WWE debut, Foley simply donned a new costume in order to provide a more imposing threat. That era of wrestling perfectly captured the difficulty of designing characters who play into machismo stereotypes while mocking them, too, a surprisingly sophisticated feat of writing and acting. Swedish six-piece Viagra Boys are the Mick Foley of the post-punk world: a tour de force of musical comedy disguised as society's most accepted reprobates.

From their name to their vocal delivery, Viagra Boys appear to be a joke, but they want to be in control of when and how the comedic plot unfolds. Until now, they have left a small, nearly untraceable trail of clues about their identity. They formed in 2015, released two short EPs, performed occasionally in Europe, and, for the record, have only taken Viagra once. Street Worms, their debut album, is a grand introduction. Viagra Boys manage to mock everyday negative qualities-boasted virility, misplaced classism, and blissful ignorance-with sincerity and ambivalence.

Like most mid-'90s WWE characters, the Boys depend as much on exclamatory writing as hammy performances. "Down in the Basement" emerges with an instant snarl, the rhythm section pulsing with restraint and grit to match Sleaford Mods. Singer Sebastian Murphy points a new finger every few seconds, as when he calls out a cheating husband and demands he give his wife the apology she deserves. The interplay between his wobbly singing, itself an homage to Mark E. Smith, and the band's tempo-aligned tightness creates an intense but aloof dynamic. The mix makes Viagra Boys confrontational. When guitars and the saxophone take turns flashing in "Slow Learner" or the manic, descending noise of "Frogstrap" refuses to relent, that's the band fortifying Murphy's criticisms and quips. There's a freeform enthusiasm to Viagra Boys' music, even if nobody is taking solos.

The band's greatest trick is mimicking the very people they despise. On "Best in Show," a whirlwind of unnerving synth squeaks, Murphy nails the elitist mentality of wealthy breeders and silk-stocking owners devoted to competitions. He introduces a Texas dog show by rattling off fake contestants. Purebred names become rambling titles. Fruits come into play. He's suddenly idolizing the seriousness of it all through absurdist comparisons, like cocker spaniels defying the space-time continuum or moonwalking canines literally taking a piss. Then there's " Sports," which funnels the vapidity of U.S. masculinity through reverb and distortion. On paper, Murphy's words read like a liberal arts student mocking the game his parents dragged him to: "BASEBALL! BASKETBALL! WEINER DOGS!" But when heard, those same exclamations take on a gruff exterior, his game of tongue-in-cheek word association now driven by deep-bellied roars and anger. Viagra Boys match parody with alarming precision.

On Street Worms, Viagra Boys pull off the very feat that made mid-'90s wrestling so successful: They put on a show that's as corny as it is engrossing, with more trenchant commentary. The album's final lyrics-"The same worms that eat me/Will someday eat you, too"-leave Murphy's lips dryly, an attempt to put every self-absorbed person already mocked in their place. But as he sings the chorus again, the send-up's bleakness becomes clear-not all who commit common indecencies will see punishment. Like that, the chorus becomes the album's signature move, a lesson that may make you feel queasy but, somehow, won't make these songs any less entertaining.


https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/viagra-boys-street-worms/