A hauntingly good sequel
Cameron Sinclair Harris
10:19 11th January 2021

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Shame released their debut album Songs of Praise in a vastly different world to the one we know now, and not in the most obvious way you’d think. Call it the genesis of a scene, or something far more cynically minded, but these days you can hardly scrawl through a playlist, thumb through a festival lineup or browse a typical ‘Album of the Year’ list without coming across a scruffy bunch of men in formal attire who call themselves a ‘post-punk’ outfit.

Since 2018’s double whammy of Songs of Praise and IDLES’ meteoric Joy as an Act of Resistance, there has been no shortage of these bands; the downside being that, with any scene, it’s harder to stand out. The genre requires a band to be outspoken, subversive, and LOUD. Knowing this, it’s difficult to distinguish whether a band is merely just appropriating the image of Mark E Smith like a haggard Halloween costume or whether they carry that very same ingenious, imaginative and rebellious spark too. With their second album, Shame could have easily stuck to the winning formula of their debut- but thankfully, the spark prevailed and Drunk Tank Pink is a hauntingly good sequel. 

Whilst the opening track and lead single ‘Alphabet’ picks up where Songs of Praise left off, it soon transitions superfluously into the Talking Heads inspired ‘Nigel Hitter’, with its syncopated new-wave rhythms. Elsewhere, we can hear nods to the likes of Deftones, the B-52s and Bowie’s Berlin trilogy. An unfamiliar drum machine introduces the chaotic workout of ‘March Day’, and ‘Water in the Well’ is accentuated by a fantastic selection of percussion. Castanets, agogos and wood blocks light up the track like an out-of-control primary school music class. Musically, we’re in unpredictable territory; like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, we’ve left sepia-tinged familiarity in favour of expansive, bewildering, fascinating strokes of colour. 

As aforementioned, bands of Shame’s ilk tend to be all about noise; loud distorted guitars summoning moshpits across the land whist a sweaty singer screams directly into the eardrums of the crowd. Whilst Drunk Tank Pink still has shades of this, the noise is used much more unexpectedly - as a direct contrast to silence. Silence, and coping with it, is the thematic pin of the album - the name of the album itself refers to the colour (a shade of pink used to calm down drunk tank inmates) of the room where frontman Charlie Steen wrote the album’s lyrics. “I’m half the man I should be” Steen sings in ‘Human, For a Minute’; the psychological toll of stepping out of the rigorous life of a touring musician back into relative normality lingers within the words illustrated by harsh and abrasive guitars. In a life permeated by noise, the reversion to silence can often feel like one of whiplash; Drunk Tank Pink manages to convey these themes in a refreshingly honest and complex manner. 

Despite the heaviness of the lyrical themes, Shame still carry their frank sense of humour with them. Album closer ‘Station Wagon’ begins with a typically Steen one-liner (“I need a new resolution and it’s not even the end of the year”), and ends with what can only be described as a cacophonous sermon. In the band’s early single ‘The Lick’, Steen called for an end to music that was “relatable, not debatable”. Somehow, Drunk Tank Pink manages to strike that medium in being relatable AND debatable. It’s an album that demonstrates the energy, wit and charisma of Shame, why their voice is vital, and why they deserve to be influencers in their own right. 

Drunk Tank Pink arrives 15 January via Dead Oceans.

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