Passenger

Passenger – Songs for the drunk and the broken

The breakup album is about as original as flowers in spring, and yet musicians have explored these depths for as long as there has been art. Breakups (especially those stemming from a pandemic) are horrific by definition, and this time-honored topic is Passenger (Brighton’s Mike Rosenberg) exploring on his 12th studio album, Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted. Unfortunately, it doesn’t add anything new to the cluttered canon.

Known for the ubiquitous “Let Her Go,” Rosenberg chooses to channel his experiences through a range of downtrodden barfly characters rather than tackling them head-on, and is unable to find new ways to create a broken partnership to describe. The piano-tipped opener “Sword from the Stone”, a pleasantly melodic note that asks for the conclusion of his former love (“I hope you eat well, I hope you stay strong”) can only sum up his feelings with Elementary school platitudes like: “I’m up and down like a yo-yo.”

Later, in the melancholy ballad “Suzanne”, Rosenberg observes an elderly woman who is sitting alone and thinking about the past few days. Didn’t Leonardo DiCaprio illustrate this scene 24 years ago when he courted Kate Winslet on the Titanic? On the chirping song “Remember to Forget” painted by numbers, Rosenberg dives into the perspective of another bar character, this time a man who throws her back and has to call it a night. We all know this guy – the one who overcomes his bar welcome because he just doesn’t want to be alone. It’s a shame: Rosenberg wants to illustrate empathy by demonstrating the universal relativity of his characters, but any archetype just seems too simplistic and two-dimensional.

While Rosenberg affable makes reed-vocal melodies about as harmless as an Edward Sharpe song tracing a supermarket visit, it is unfortunate that he finds nothing new about one of the most common circumstances a person can experience. Instead of addressing his current situation directly, Rosenberg instead hides behind hollow caricatures. For an album so keen to stand at the end of a bottle, Songs for the Drunk and Broken-Hearted could go a lot deeper. RB

Viagra Boys – Welfare jazz

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Swedish post-punk band Viagra Boys

(Fredrik Bengtsson)

Everything about Viagra Boys doesn’t seem to be taken seriously. Let’s start with your name, which your publicists need to highlight to prevent emails from going straight to the spam folder. Her debut album, Street Worms from 2018, was full of offbeat statements – front man Sebastian Murphy’s wailing “I’m not like these other guys”. But despite all the claims made by the Stockholm post-punks to be against “serious music”, their music manages to be fun and relevant to current events.

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The title of their new album, Welfare Jazz, is itself a blow to the institutionalized art classism of the Swedish government. They used to mimick the voices of the people they most despised – the rich, the privileged, the ignorant – now they speak for the dispossessed too. “Creatures” undermines elitist attitudes towards “the people at the bottom” on a bed of murky Joy Division synthesizers, while “Girls & Boys” is a feverish, sometimes incoherent gasp of youthful fear.

There is a fantastic sense of space on this plate. The crowded instrumentation of “Toad” is preceded by “Cold Play” and his lonely saxophone in an empty room. The growling riff on “Shooter” comes right in your face. It helps that the band has such a wild sense of musical devotion – “We want panpipes on ‘Into the Sun’ so we have panpipes,” they seem to be saying. There’s a lot to unzip, but Welfare Jazz is a smart and engaging listening experience. ROC