Shame brilliantly and explosively capture theirs and the world’s state of mind on their bold, expansive, and explosive sophomore album, ‘Drunk Tank Pink’.
Rewind the tape to 2014, and a young band from London was just finding its feet. For the next three years, Shame would tour endlessly, sharing their frenetic and cathartic post-punk to anyone willing to a pay a few Pounds to hear them play. Despite their efforts, popularity and recognition escaped them. The quintet experienced bankruptcy and were forced to sleep in their van as they drifted from town to town and city to city. Eventually, they burnt out, so they took a short hiatus to recharge and replenish their bank accounts. The break proved to be the turning point, as they returned in late 2017 with a renewed fervor and ferocity. Their debut album, Songs of Praise, would follow in early 2018, and it was a forceful, thunderous proclamation of the state of the world.
Suddenly a band that few knew catapulted to one of the UK’s most popular indie bands. Eddie Green, Charlie Forbes, Josh Finerty, Sean Coyle-Smith, and Charlie Steen’s perseverance made Shame relevant, as their music captured the growing class warfare and the sobering mood of a post-Brexit UK. Destitution was in the rear-view mirror. Or was it?
After returning home following several months on the road in support of Songs, the quintet found themselves at another crossroads. After years on the move, they were suddenly stationary. They were, as such, re-learning how to live an ordinary life while grappling with who they were individually and what they wanted to be collectively. In other words, they came crashing back to reality and suddenly confronting midlife crises while still in their twenties. The result of this introspection is Drunk Tank Pink.
Taken from the name of the room that Steen wrote most of the album’s songs, Shame’s sophomore LP is bold, expansive, and exhilarating. While some things have changed, one thing remains – the band’s signature explosiveness. The raw energy of “Alphabet” kicks off the album with a post-punk bender. The energy is raw while uncertainty reeks from Steen’s voice. He harshly and rhetorically asks, “Are you waiting to feel good?” The band’s post-punk foundations are also reflected on “Good Dog”, on which Steen cleverly analogizes how being a good person is akin to being a well-trained pet. “And I’ll take another walk with you”, Steen hollers as his bandmates unleash a wall of cataclysmic noise.
The rest of the album, meanwhile, sees the band dovetail into new ground. With the herky-jerky disjointedness of the Talking Heads, “Nigel Hitter” is an art-punk delight. The manic and quirky approach provides the perfect mural to Steen’s tale of trying to survive through everyday routines and the accompanying boredom. The sleek, krautrock-infused “Human, A Minute”, delves deep into the band’s psyche of isolation and loneliness. This subject is further and brilliantly expressed on the forlorn “Born in Luton”, on which Steen cries out:
“I’ve been waiting outside for all of my life
And now I’ve got to the door there’s no one inside”
The darkness grows on the towering “Snow Day”. This stark, menacing track takes Nick Cave’s dark rhapsodies into John Carpenter territory. There are no monsters, goblins, nor murderers on the loose. Instead, the causes of the fright are demons that exist within each person, and they are the guardians of our internal and eternal imprisonment. These feelings eventually manifest themselves in a panic attack, which is articulated on the jittery, art-dance-punk number, “March Day” . The off-kilter dance party continues with the ingenious “Water in the Well”. Through a mix of bounce-off-the-walls, manic post-punk and off-kilter, witty new wave, the band sonically and literally describe the chaotic state of the world where enemies exist everywhere.
These enemies can also be our puppet masters, which is cleverly detailed on the propulsive and METZ-esque “Harsh Degrees”. Despite the despair and uneasiness, Shame end the record with a glimmer of hope on the slow-building and searing “Station Wagon”. A dystopian Earth is the setting, where Steen seeks to make “happiness only a habit”. With the vivid imagination of Hunter S. Thompson, he calmly states:
“Look, look up there,
There’s something in that cloud
We’ve all seen it before
A constant vapor of light
Lift up my trousers and kiss my earlobes
Feel the rain tremble through the sky
Won’t someone please bring me that cloud
And all is but a distinct memory when I look up at it
Voice shatter in disbelief that anything could look so…
Maybe this is what gets the band through their new reality – finding the beauty within the small things while stretching their imaginations as far as they can. To get there, one must first venture through the darkness to see find the light, and Drunk Tank Pink brilliantly and explosively capture theirs and the world’s state of mind.
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