Back in 2018 I took note of the name shame - underlined, circled, highlighted, and bolded it. Their debut album Songs of Praise indicated an immense amount of promise in my vision, with the group encapsulating all the best parts of post-punk via its versatile sound and influences. With songs that either delivered in unbridled energy, infectious catchiness, or dark tones, the group had an eye on how to deliver different tonalities and moods so that their songs all felt idiosyncratic. Songs of Praise was one of my absolute favorite punk albums of that year, in a year full of them (Joy as an Act of Resistance and Wide Awake! come directly to mind), and it was easy to see that shame had a lot more in the tank going forward.
Flash forward almost exactly three years to the date and we have that exhibited clearly with Drunk Tank Pink, an album that continues to see shame developing a deeper sound with even more layers, and wider array of influence, than its predecessor. Drunk Tank Pink has a similar ability to Songs of Praise in terms of delivering diversity in emotional range. Alphabet gets the album started off with the heavy end of shame, full of the angst and excitement that they bring to their live performances, which is also translated through the quick-blast of Great Dog as well as the follow up tracks 6/1 and Harsh Degrees. There is also the hooky and fun blend of new wave and dance punk in the vein of Talking Heads on songs like Nigel Hitter, Born in Luton, March Day and standout Water in the Well, each of which approach the art form from different angles.
That leaves the more mature and gothic style of post punk relegated to the second half of the record through the songs Snow Day, Station Wagon, and Human, for a Minute. The first instance of this style, Snow Day, doesn't relent on its heaviness with masterclass vocalist Charlie Sheen using his voice as a perfect means of emotional transfer as he shifts from spoken-word, violent shouts, and infrequent sung points. Snow Day also changes frequently in instrumentation, at times honing solely in on buzzing bass lines and quick percussion, at times slowing down to a snail pace, at near the end getting as loud as possible with the guitar speedily strummed over quiet group vocals. Human, for a Minute has a much more consistent tone, but not in a boring way, as Sheen spends most of the time seemingly whispering his writing rather than screaming it in your face with gentle instrumentation. The closing track Station Wagon brings it all home. The longest song on the album and arguably the most artistic, which is consistent with their approach on Songs of Praise, Station Wagon has plenty of time to grow from yet another toned down format to piano interludes all the way to the chaotic and blistering blast of noise that brings the album to its sonic climax.
All of these different tonalities are brought together by the maturity in Sheen's writing, who spent his time thinking about these songs while confined to a pink-walled closet, ergo the album title. Still quite young, Sheen explores the transition into adulthood that seems perfectly in tune with the added maturity that is heard throughout the albums sound. Water in the Well is performed artistically and irresistibly, but the lyrics are just as artistic and thoughtful as anything across the record. Alphabet is boiled down to only a few lines, but they are presented in a driven and memorable manner. Station Wagon brings it all together, ending with something that reads more like brilliant slam poetry compared to songwriting, all percussive and brilliantly penned.
I had little doubt I would be singing the praises of shame long term after their debut Songs of Praise, and after catching the singles leading up to Drunk Tank Pink no doubts ever seeped in. The group haven't released a song I didn't love, and given how young the members are I have a feeling I'll have a lot more to love moving forward. Their sophomore release only strengthens their standing in an evolving and gifted group of post punk revival-revival acts coming out of the UK region, making it evident that the movement is continuing with exceptional momentum and shows no signs of slowing going into 2021.
Favorite track: Water in the Well