A lot has changed since Shame released their debut Songs of Praise in summer 2018. When the five-piece emerged they were heralded as Britain’s most exciting new band, this generation’s Great British guitar offering, and they seemed to relish the attitude, hedonism and chaotic live shows that came with that territory. Since then, the South London scene that the band are synonymous with has grown from relative obscurity to dominating the UK alternative charts. There are Speedy Wunderground features in the Metro, and any BBC 6Music listener worth their salt knows about the Brixton Windmill (although the legendary venue is still in dire need of support following the fallout from Covid-19). From the unfaltering math-rock of Black Midi to the use of brass by Squid and Black Country, New Road, to Dry Cleaning’s blunt, spoken word vocals, ‘guitar music’ has diversified enormously.
Luckily for their fans, though, Shame seem to have resisted the temptation to change tack too much. On Drunk Tank Pink, singer Charlie Steen’s snarling vocal is as vital and fervent as ever, with plenty of the anthemic singalong moments they’re loved for. But their sound has doubtless been elevated, perhaps by a growth in confidence after the success of Songs of Praise. The guitars are just as turbulent, but their riffs are tighter and cleaner, particularly on recent single ‘Alphabet’, and the excellent, Television-esque ‘March Day’. There’s no shortage of chaotic, moshpit-ready breakdowns (‘Water In The Well’, ‘6/1’, ‘Great Dog’), but there are also moments of calm, vulnerability, like the appropriately titled ‘Human, For A Minute’. “I’m half the man I should be,” mutters Steen over a slow, sultry bassline, calling to mind a less cocksure Baxter Dury. Album closer ‘Station Wagon’ is the best thing they’ve ever written; a track on which Steen’s energy simmers to boiling point, initially masked by melodic piano and then unleashed along with a wall of reverb and crashing drums.
With Drunk Tank Pink, Shame have achieved what many fail to: they’ve taken what works from their first album, and made it better. Despite the growing competition, it seems they might hold onto their title a little while longer.
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