Despite not venturing too far away from the typical post-punk formula and definitely being a bit inspired by their contemporaries, Drunk Tank Pink is a great maturation for Shame, a band I previously saw to be a humdrum display of generic post-punk finally coming into their own.
Shame’s debut album, 'Songs of Praise', was an album that many loved, though I merely thought it was an average post-punk record. The album did very little to stick out in a sea of post-punk albums that already didn’t stick out. Worse than that, phenomenal writing aside, the album was a bit on the boring side. Drowning in their contemporary influences, they churned out lackluster tunes that were fine post-punk tracks, but nothing more than that. The album barely left an impact on me whatsoever, detached from a few specific songs.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Chode, why did you just shit on their previous album so much when you enjoy this one?” Well, it’s simple: I believe Drunk Tank Pink not only escapes the trap of the sophomore slump many modern-day artists find themselves slipping into but also finds the band discovering and establishing a unique voice within their respective genre.
Channeling everything I enjoy about bands such as Protomartyr and IDLES, Shame unleashes their unrestrained rage onto the listener through a collection of the most uncompromising post-punk tracks to grace my ears in recent memory. While Charli Steen isn’t necessarily the best vocalist in current punk, he carries a level of sarcasm and animation with his vocals that deviates him enough for him to stand out when put against other vocalists, sounding tremendously manic as he delivers his lines. Moreover, to add to Steen’s distraught vocal inflections, the album tackles Steen’s struggle with anxiety and confidence with himself, a problem only amplified by a culmination of the mental stress being put onto him through his packed touring schedule, transitioning into quarantine, and the rapid growth of the band's popularity; going from a small indie band to accumulating hundreds of thousands of Spotify monthly listeners, getting Pitchfork co-signs, and selling out tours can be tough to come to terms with at first. Facing this dilemma, Steen locked himself into a pink room of solitude having nobody to conversate with but himself. He knew that he had to face the problem head-on through forceful song-writing, and he does so on 'Drunk Tank Pink'.
The chaos continues compostionally with an instrumental backdrop as aggressive and anxious as Steen, firing at all cylinders with layered instrumentation and barrages of disquieted guitars that constantly feel like they're closing in on the listener. Twists-and-turns are thrown in at every corner to keep the album feeling fresh and unpredictable, never letting it get confined into one specific place. It’s a sound pallet perfectly suited for Steen’s perturbed ramblings.
'Snow Day' uses its loose song structure and uneasy feel to create a song in the vein of Black Country, New Road, 'Human, for a Minute' is a hushed moment of reflection for Steen, 'Harsh Degrees' and 'Water in the Well' are both catchy beyond belief with their use of off-the-rocker vocal inflections and groovy riffs, 'Station Wagon' ends the album off with a climactic cacophony of noisy guitars, consuming noise, and emotion. The album’s worst moments are the ones where Shame seems lacking in originality. Tracks such as 'Alphabet', 'Nigel Hitter', and 'March Day' reek too much of the influences they are so obviously pulling from, post-punk bands both old and new. So you could make the assumption that this album is not Shame born anew, and I would only agree to some extent. While Shame has not fully escaped its old habits, the band finds itself at a place where it’s at the most captivating and determined it has ever been, and as a result, they finally have me singing songs of praise for them.
Favorite Tracks: Born in Lutton, Water in Well, Snow Day, Human for a Minute, 6/1, Harsh Degrees, Station Wagon
Worst Track: Alphabet