Shame delivered the best kind of debut album with the release of their 2018 LP Songs of Praise. Charged with energy and defined by memorable melodies, the album presented the young UK group—then barely out of their teens—not as a group of paradigm-shifting innovators but rather something more immediately satisfying: They created an album that served to remind us how much fun post-punk and indie rock can be when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The proof was in their live performances, defined by shirtlessness, flying water bottles and property damage.
Songs of Praise did something else really well—it found the band establishing a well-defined aesthetic that allowed plenty of room for growth, leaving an open-ended path toward something more sophisticated and eclectic. Arriving nearly three years to the day after Songs of Praise‘s release, Drunk Tank Pink shows what three years—and more than 300 days spent on the road since then—can do with that aesthetic. The band are just as rowdy, their riffs taut as ever and their rhythms just as punchy, but these songs feel less rigid. Shame already had the anthems, but now they’re exploring what lies beyond the boundaries of those shout-along choruses.
The three years since their last album have found Shame maturing musically while encountering a certain kind of anxiety and uncertainty that tends to arise in your mid twenties. The title of the album refers to a specific shade of pink that’s used as a calming hue in overnight rehab centers. Yet the band doesn’t seem any more reserved here; first single “Water in the Well” twitches and churns with Gang of Four-like sandpaper funk as vocalist Charlie Steen barks defeated confessions like “I tried to find myself but I lost the map and now I’m all burnt out.” The group similarly take on a post-punk-funk of the Talking Heads variety on the standout “Born in Lufton,” which finds Steen offering more in the way of wise, quotable quips: “If it makes you smile, then it’s worth a tear.” And in the frantic, layered rush of “6/1,” Steen offers a particularly grim spin on “be careful what you wish for”: “I represent everything that I hate/Yet I’m the person I always dreamt I’d become.”
In the atmospheric closer “Station Wagon,” Steen declares, “I need a new solution/I need a new resolution.” Ironically, it’s in this state of dissatisfaction in which Shame have arrived upon something both promising and powerful. The songs on Drunk Tank Pink aren’t always as immediate as those on its predecessor, but there’s more to explore and discover with each listen, both musically and lyrically. What hasn’t changed is their presence and their energy, and a band of their ilk being unable to present these songs in their most visceral and interactive form is a missed opportunity, or at least a delayed one. This is the kind of catharsis that needs to be experienced in a loud, hot, sweaty room, shirt optional.
Label: Dead Oceans
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.