The best things in life come to those who wait. And it seems to have been quite the age since Shame first broke out into underground stardom with debut album Songs Of Praise way back in 2018. The release and subsequent success of that album almost paved a way for the new age of post punk and independent artists to be able to break into the top spots on the UK album charts. Since the release the likes of Black Midi, Sports Team and IDLES have all found themselves racing up the charts in fashion that hasn’t been seen in many years for these ‘guitar bands’. The south London 5-piece now return with their long awaited, long delayed sophomore album Drunk Tank Pink. Taking its name from both the colour that is supposed to invoke a more relaxed state of mind as well as the bedroom that lead singer Charlie Steen moved into after two years of relentless touring with the band. Where Songs Of Praise sought to understand the teenage angst that is felt as you start to come away from your childhood, Drunk Tank Pink is about finding your identity as an adult, where your place is in this brutalist world. “I’m half the man I should be” chants Steen on “Human, For A Minute”.
Written and recorded before any of the horrors of the past year took place, the themes of this album preceded many of the feelings of isolation and longing to get somewhere that were felt by many people, but perhaps that’s the beauty of this songwriting. “In my room, in my womb, Is the only place I find peace, All alone, in my home, Yeah, I still can’t get to sleep” sings Steen on “March Day”. The innocence of not knowing what was to come, and yet capturing the spirit of us all without trying to jump on the bandwagon of lockdown songs allows the emotion felt in this track to become more pure, and therefore more relatable to us all. But you can hear the descent into a wealth of anxiety as this album goes on, through to the second half Steen now sings “I devote all this timе, To a world that’s not mine, Then I fade far away, Then I fade far away, As I talk to myself, You emerge ill of health” on “Harsh Degrees”, slowly feeling as though he’s losing his place in the world the more time he spends alone with himself.
It would have easy to repeat the same formula of Songs Of Praise which sonically was centred largely around the raucous riffs that burst along every second of the way. However this album takes its time in allowing each sound and idea to be played out in full. There’s elements of funk sewn into the riffs and beats of the off-kilter “Nigel Hitter” that demand you to get up and groove along. And then there’s the slow chugging hopefulness of closer “Station Wagon” that asks you to take a step back and look at the beauty of the world, as the ballad like piano and controlled drum beats chug along until the track reaches its frenzy fuelled closure. “But nobody said this was gonna be easy, And with you as my witness, I’m gonna try and achieve, The unachievable, Because one day, That vapour will be in my pocket” declares Steen as he looks to the heavens above.
One reoccurrence that the band leans heavily into is the big anthemic chorus, from the climatic closing of “Born In Luton” to the euphoric half time explosion of intensity on “Water In The Well”. They serve as emotive outbursts that allow the stories that Steen is singing about to be presented with an air of pure cathartic bliss. This grandeur not only amplifies Shame’s blistering sound, but allows it to become even more bittersweet. The maturity that is sung about within the lyrics is also matched within the songwriting. The movement from the off-beat guitar riffs to the half-speed chaotic chorus calls on “Snow Day” perfectly distills the intensity and erratic nature of becoming in love with the idea of a time, as it takes over your every thought. “And then I fall to you, In my mind”. The crashing drums and colliding guitars fly around the soundscape whilst simultaneously keeping their mark of driving the the song to its colourfully flourished finish line. But they don’t have to have the flailing guitars at every moment to sound truly haunting. The epitome of the bands songwriting as well as this albums production value comes in the form of “Human, For A Minute”. Through its closely patched chugging bass line, deadpan vocal delivery and truly sinister guitar lines this song embodies the lack of self worth that many young adults begin to feel in their early twenties. There’s so much darkness packed into this song that from the moment you first hear it you get sucked into its deep endless ravine of self depreciation.
But this isn’t to say the power and chaos is gone from their sound. The three track run of “Great Dog”, “6/1” and “Harsh Degrees” is packed with that full faced intensity that was found all over their debut album, each song leading into the next without giving you a second to breath. It’s fast and furious but unlike the film franchise, the songs don’t overstay their welcome. Sometimes however the riff and beat on certain songs can become a bit too predictable and leave you yearning for those changes in pace. Although only a few songs into the tracklist the flurrying early 2000’s indie paced guitar lines of “March Day” and “Water In The Well” feel as though they’ve been heard many times before and don’t quite match up to the grandeur of many other moments in the album. Hidden behind explosions of sound, they are exciting in their drive but don’t really offer anything new in terms of sonic exploration.
Whether you’ve been bullying the band on twitter or patiently awaiting the second coming of these boys from the south, one things for sure, they have delivered the goods. And not just a second helping of what we’ve all had a good taste for, but an album that has been grown and allowed to mature along with us until it was ready to be consumed. The confidence and bravado of Shame has never died down in this time and that can be felt all over this album as the band look to challenge themselves at almost every turn.