When we covered Shame’s debut Songs of Praise in Episode 8 of the podcast, it was one of those rare times when all three hosts were in agreement. This was a very good album. We also seemed to agree that it was a pleasant surprise in a crowded scene – an indie/post-punk album that didn’t take itself too seriously and knew how to have a laugh. It was positive feedback all over the place. As is often the case, though, an album that I really enjoyed during a month of intense listening for the podcast did end up falling off my radar a little bit, and I had barely listened to it since. As the hype for Drunk Tank Pink grew, I found myself returning to the debut and drawing a few conclusions; it is a very good album, but since its release this is a genre that has entered something of a heyday and Songs of Praise sounded more like a signal of strong potential than a masterpiece in its own right. It has real highs (‘Concrete’, ‘Donk’, and ‘Angie’ in particular), but has moments where it lags a little too.
That’s fine, of course. It was a debut record by a very young band, so to expect perfection would be more than a little unfair. I did draw another conclusion, though. As I have already said, this is now a crowded genre. For Shame to show that they deserve to be considered on a similar level as contemporaries such as Fontaines DC, The Murder Capital, IDLES (before Ultra Mono), and Protomartyr, they were going to have to take some big strides forward on the new one.
Which, of course, they did. I never should have doubted them. They open with an absolute banger in ‘Alphabet’ – a song that begins with the aggressive percussion and powerful basslines that led me to point out their Joy Division influence on the podcast episode I mentioned above. The one thing that currently makes ‘Alphabet’ a difficult listen is that it was undoubtedly made for a mosh pit, 1000 fans jumping up and down and screaming to the chorus of ‘are you waiting to feel good?/Are you praying, like you should?’ This song has so much glorious, pent up energy – it is exactly what an album opener ought to be. And then it’s followed by the calmer, more measured ‘Nigel Hitter’ – and an indication that that fun, playful side of the band is still there in spades.
In terms of quality, there aren’t really any dips from this great start all the way to the end. But what makes this album such a big step forward from the last is the way that this fun, aggressive band have now started to throw in some real light and shade when it comes to the content of the songs they are putting out there. ‘Born in Luton’ might sound like a punky racket, but it seems to tell a tale of an isolated and sometimes difficult upbringing. ‘March Day’ is a frank admission of struggles with mental health under a relentless wall of sound. ‘Snow Day’, one of the album’s absolute standouts, is a lyrical, poetic masterpiece that is clear about its author’s struggles at the start and ends with an open and honest plea for the comfort of another person’s arms.
‘Great Dog’ then unleashes the fun again. This song would come at the part of the gig when the fans, knackered after an over-excited reaction to the opening, would get a second wind and bounce around the room like the Tasmanian devil. But the light and shade returns as the album ends with the other song that is battling ‘Snow Day’ for my top spot from the tracklist. ‘Station Wagon’ is a slow burner, a perfect closer, and a song that does all the things that Shame do well within its 6.39 minute run time. It builds slowly, it’s driven by its drums, it mixes fun with a message of hope and some mesmerising lyrics, and it features the full range of Charlie Steen’s vocals – from his spoken word drawl to the full release of a scream. It’s the perfect way to end the first great album of 2021.
Words by Fran Slater