Shame take their brand of Post-Punk to the next level
Back in January of 2018 Shame's debut Songs of Praise grabbed the attention of many, but sadly not myself. I personally didn't find the project to be catchy or heavy enough to return to that often, especially when that same year also brought us Joy as an Act of Resistance by IDLES, which was basically everything I could want from that type of record.
3 years on though, Drunk Tank Pink is a significant improvement, hooks catch you immediately, the guitar lines are nasty but retain just enough melody that they aren't truly abrasive and everything else has been turned up a notch to deliver an extra gut punch through sheer force.
The album does start a little slow though. Alphabet and Nigel Hitter are 2 slightly weaker and less than interesting songs that open the record, so it's not until the caustic Born in Luton that I feel the band really get going.
Born in Luton makes great use of dynamics and a wall of sound to create waves of tension that drag the listener out into a sea of misery that only builds further at the end, rising to brilliant crescendo. Lyrically it seems to deal with depression, using the metaphor of being locked outside your house:
"Buzzers broken, I guess I’ll just wait
No umbrella and it’s starting to rain"
March Day then throws us in the opposite direction, with lighter and much more playful guitars. However they don't stay that way for long as a layer of grime is added to them as the track progresses. It continues the theme of depression by looking at one of the most common symptoms: the overwhelming need to stay in bed, do nothing and sleep:
"I've been told, "Beauty gets old"
By beggars, knights, and cheats
If true then I woke up for nothing
I should just go back to sleep"
Water in the Well is another standout with guitar tones and riffs that could very easily land on Black Midi's Schlagenheim. The bridge then takes this a step further, layering vocals on top of vocals to create a visceral haze that aches for relief.
Snow Day follows up with a slow burn that shifts and contorts itself across its 5 minute run time. Starting out more melodic and fun, it moves through heavy Math-Rock tinged guitars, wall of noise and even Post-Rock sections that keep you constantly entertained and unsteady for what's next, but ready for the exciting challenge. This time the theme is represented by the cold weather in which the narrator finds some peace by thinking of whoever the song is addressed to:
"And then I close my eyes
And then I fall to you
And everything comes together at once
It looks just like the ocean"
Human, for a Minute uses a thudding bass line and an atmospheric chorus to create an sombre ambience for the vocals to drift over. One of the more straightforward tracks it even includes a short guitar solo. Lyrically it's actually a somewhat hopeful song, starting out dark, but begins to brighten when the chanting in the bridge changes:
"I never felt human
I never felt human before
And I never felt human before you"
Great Dog is the shortest track here, not even 2 minutes long. It uses this time to launch into the record's most energetic and Punk like song. Vitriol drips from the singer's lips as the track spirals into more noise and nonsense.
6/1 then follows up with an easier to approach, but no less pained and angered guitar-vocal combo. The melodic lines are hypnotic and draw you in, while the rhythms from the bass and drums propel you forward. Coming to head in another Punk breakdown for the last 30 seconds or so.
Harsh Degrees comes straight off of 6/1's heels, all energy, no time to waste. Once again the guitars find themselves spinning lines of twisted grit and agony, the song pushes on relentlessly towards an even more disturbed and caustic crescendo.
Station Wagon is a 6 1/2 minute cut that closes out the project. Another slow burn, it starts out dreary and monotone with a simple bass-drum pattern keeping things moving. The singer begins to gather more disdain behind their voice for a while before we get a brief point of respite. We're then treated to a diatribe, long and rambling, all the while the music is picking up again drums and bass and now a piano all repeating and creeping forward in the mix, while guitars are scraped for little more than noise. And it builds and builds, until everything coalesces into fuzz that fades out the album. The meandering and verbose lyrics seem to be about daily life and that the narrator is going to push through their troubles:
"But nobody said this was gonna be easy
And with you as my witness
I'm gonna try and achieve
For as much as I do enjoy this album, I also think it's quite flawed. Several songs don't keep me interested for their runtimes, not really exploring anything new either musically or emotionally. The tones of many of the tracks also blend together such that I sometimes tune out and only come back in when a more interesting song comes on.
Having said all this, Drunk Tank Pink is still a big improvement over their debut. Far more visceral and captivating than before. The lyrics are great as well, they feel lived in and the desire to do better, to get out of that personal hell is got across wonderfully. I hope they continue sown this path and make something even more amazing.
Favourites: Born in Luton, Water in the Well, Snow day, Human, for a Minute, Station Wagon
Least Favs: Alphabet