Shame, Drunk Tank Pink

This is what we have been waiting for… or, at least, it’s something like it. Readers will know I’m excited for U.K. Post-Punk (as the catch-all genre du jour), and Shame spin neatly into this thread. Their first album, 2018’s Songs of Praise, was a wonderfully biting, grating and soul-beating musical journey I had not been on in some years. An album that, in hindsight, tellingly foreshadowed the arrival of black midi, Black Country, New Road, and the formation of a “scene”. However, in 2018, this very website — and the way that is Snobbery — was only just getting started, so Shame and this scene went unremarked upon. But no longer.

I love music that grabs me by the shirt and, wrestling with its own emotional decompression, screams misanthropic poetry directly at my face. Shame’s first album, Songs of Praise, did that, and it became a true, personal favourite that year as a result (see my 2018 contenders, pedants and doubters). There was just something so real to Concrete that wasn’t present in anything else I heard that year. Was it derivative of past genres? Sure, but I’m Borgesian: originality is dead, dude.

So, in an entirely unoriginal world, Songs of Praise cut right through, straight into Cuzomano vibes territory: this is where I chill; this is who I am. “And I hope that you’re hearing me, and I hope that you’re hearing me…”

With follow-up record, Drunk Tank Pink, however, Shame have somewhat changed their tune. What do I mean by that? Presuming I know what the band feel without knowing them, this album reeks of optimism, but this is still Shame.

It really is. The Lick-level Shame is present on this album: Snow Day is proof, and it is a magnificent track, with lyrical dexterity that gives way to a band maturing in promise. It’s not quite as gut-wrenchingly novel as the aforementioned track from the first album, but you do not get to eternally relive the first moment in your life you ever heard a song, despite what Instagram will deceive you into believing. That’s life, and that’s what I felt Shame were getting at with their first album. It’s the entire vibe that I pick up on in the broader re-emergence of this kind of “guitar music” within the U.K./London music scene, in fact, and I love it.

Moments and feelings are finite; the creative mood in which music like this is conceived does not emerge from a template; it bubbles up out of nowhere, appears to coalesce quickly, and then calms into something that propels itself onto the record – an almost magical process that captures the very sentiment of a generation at a moment in time. A song can embody a decade (The Human League — Don’t You Want Me), and Shame and their ilk, I feel, are capturing now.

Drunk Tank Pink is the logical next step in this story: a band that tasted fame feel a fuck-tonne better about themselves than they did when they were coming from the truly heartfelt place that led to their very inception: this is a happy album.

Nigel Hitter has more in common with Remain In Light-era Talking Heads than it does The Clash, and that’s interesting to note, in the broader scope of the re-emergence of this genre onto the popular scene: unlike ’90s grunge, for example, these guys aren’t afraid to be happy on-record. There’s no pressure to maintain an image: that’s not what this is about.

It’s a successful transition to Pop. Not Pop in the conventional sense, but a well-judged move into a more popular sound for their genre of music. Pretty much every song has a strength of some sort, and they broadly all cohesively flow together into an album. In 2021, this is no small feat.

The production itself adds more levity and jollity to Shame’s sound, and it comes together nicely. March Day will go down as an overlooked track from this album, as far as I can tell. There’s really nice guitar-work present there that nods to genres your average listener would almost certainly not pick up on, but it’s quite notable, if you’re a Snob.

Human, for a Minute, on the other hand opens an interesting new door to Shame’s aural landscape that offers a chance to escape their original genre and codification to head towards something slightly… different. The band doesn’t quite entirely do that on this record, but maybe on the third? This question alone makes Shame a band worth following. Station Wagon, the album’s closer, also changes up the genre, although I can’t yet decide whether I see it as a light-hearted riff on some Southern-style, U.S. Rock, or whether it’s a really piss-poor take on mid-80s Lou Reed. I leave that decision with you, the reader and listener, but it’s important to think about, if you want to critique Shame’s next album, as their skill is opening them up to this, ruthless kind of unqualified, keyboard-warrior judgement. It’s after the third minute that I feel I cannot be so scathing, and that actually this band is truly on the path to greatness within their field, as Héloïse Adélaïde is in hers.

Happiness is only a habit
And, if that’s true,
Then I am habitually dependent on
Something I cannot control.

I recognise that this review has likely told you nothing about the album, the band, or the genre, but I truly feel that this is music that you either “get”, or you don’t. And if you don’t, maybe you got something else from this diatribe, but if you do “get it”, then I hope you’re nodding in agreement. We need more of this kind of music. It wipes its backside with your ambivalence, if you don’t care, and it’s hard to criticise when it’s so fucking good to hear someone finally even making music like this again.

It also helps when it’s good music, of which this album contains plenty. Buy this vinyl; it is worth listening to.