Album Review: Shame – ‘Drunk Tank Pink’

The weirder, wiser cousin to 2018’s Songs of Praise, Shame’s latest export melds a menacing tone and relatable Gen Z musings into a sharp, timely tableau for 2021. The Mic’s Ben Preston unpicks the musical intricacies of the South London mob’s most mature project to date.

Going from the hedonistic exuberance of touring around the world, surrounded by people every second, to the stark contrast of life at home came as a shock to South London post-punk band Shame. They had spent the latter years of their teens living this high life on the road following the success of their debut album Songs of Praise, a record which, for many, represents a feeling of belonging. Lead singer Charlie Steen’s snarling lyrics, packed full of wit and relatability, combined with anthem-like choruses and punchy instrumentals meant Songs of Praise lit the spark for dopamine fuelled experiences of gig-going teens, inspiring a community of likeminded people and a refreshing sense of confidence.

No other feeling was like that of seeing Shame live for the first time, the raw anarchic joy of the mosh pits and the tumultuous chanting of everyone in the crowd was unmatched. But when you first find your feet it’s easy to think you’ve made it and unfortunately that feeling doesn’t last forever. With each new experience you eventually start to question what it is you truly appreciate and why it’s those things in particular. This anxiety can only really come about when left with time alone to think and when Shame finally came off touring, the anxiety was immense.

‘The jaunty discordance of the instrumentation paints a picture of an artist desperately looking for new direction.’

Shame are the defining band for a generation of gig goers and whilst at first glance the direction of their new album may come as unexpected, upon further inspection the progression shown to Drunk Tank Pink is most certainly one that’s relatable (not debatable). Members of Shame can be heard becoming ever more impatient after each Mario Kart-esque guitar beep at the beginning of Alphabet, revving their engines, itching to race off in to Drunk Tank Pink. “Are you waiting to feel good?” chants Steen to us in the chorus, knowing full well he isn’t anymore. Ferocious as ever, Alphabet verifies Shame still has their bite but a lingering impression of an imminent metamorphosis seeps through (not just down to the tambourine), foreshadowing a musical step forward for the band.

This progression is confirmed the instant you set your ears in to the jerky, angular riffed world of Nigel Hitter, it’s lyrics acting as a window in to the hopelessly endless cycle of creative frustration that was within Charlie Steen’s mind leading up to this album. The jaunty discordance of the instrumentation paints a picture of an artist desperately looking for new direction and paired with lyrics such as “throwing everything at this wall and hoping something sticks” a level of self awareness is revealed. While it’s clear to see they have now broken free of the cycle, this song acknowledges the lengthy process which has led to Shame finding a sound as fresh as Charlie Steen’s linen sheets.

Listening to BiL’s opening guitar sequence there’s an inkling suspicion of a song reminiscent of a headbanger like Lampoon to come but instead we’re greeted with what at first appears to be shames most dance centric venture to date. Grooviness is set to the max by the bounciness of the dense and unconventional (for shame) percussion. Unexpectedly at points in the song the band takes a different direction and reveals a slow tempo with vulnerable lyrics of confusion and loneliness from Steen accompanied by epic sounding backing vocals with a mightily dramatic feeling provoked.

As BiL fades out we’re then thrown in to the quicker paced and of course frantically syncopated to the max, March Day which is then quickly followed by Water in the Well. Hearing the track for the first time, I couldn’t help but think Shame were trying to recreate an increasingly popular sound, this being the (sometimes) wood block-beating, rhythmically adventurous, yelpy post punk similar to that of Squid and Pottery (to name just a couple). Even if there is a little inspiration in there somewhere, Water in the Well brings together all the idiosyncrasies shame fans adore combined with their new found musical ambitions. I can’t help but picture Steen grinning away with a scraper in hand, having the time of his life.

‘At almost seven minutes long, Station Wagon serves as the heaven-bound ending Steen hints towards throughout the album.’

Snow Day is truly serene, starting with chilling fractured guitar strums that permeate through along with the drums even as the other instruments meld in to one another producing an atmosphere reminiscent of a thickening snow storm. While it seems Charlie Steen is lost, the dramatic pinnacle of this song (and perhaps even the whole album) reveals the epiphany he’s been working towards. Steen is talking about confronting his anxiety ridden subconscious when faced with isolation, being able to find himself outside the band. Yet this feeling of anxiety has never been such a relatable topic considering the struggle the world has faced with dealing with Covid-induced isolation, which makes this album extremely relevant in this day and age.

The theme of confronting oneself carries on in the rest of the album, with very much a welcome change of pace, with more intense, even more confident sounding, assertive noise. Great Dog brings with it a noise rock infused, distorted punk explosion and then 6/1 explores themes of confidence with even more raucous, most definitely moshable sound. A pounding synth starts off the heavy forward inertia of Shame’s successful shot at synth-infused noise rock in Harsh Degrees. At almost seven minutes long, Station Wagon serves as the heaven-bound ending Steen hints towards throughout the album.

A soothing but somewhat menacing ambience is set with a gentle bass intro and infrequent plucks of guitar allowed to resonate off before stripped back drums come in. “The hits are heavy but the misses are frequent,” confesses Steen having been badgered by backing vocals of “hit or miss.” Silence is followed by a meek sounding isolated piano, as an ever loudening cacophony of sound soon ensues in the last minutes of Drunk Tank Pink, drowning out the piano. Shame ascend through the clouds. Drunk Tank Pink marks a point of humbling maturity for Shame, revealing Charlie Steen’s struggles in coming to terms with himself as well as the bands true appreciation for musical intricacies, arising after finally having that moment of isolation, being forced to stop and think.

Written by: Ben Preston

Edited by: Olivia Stock

Images courtesy of Shame via Facebook.