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Drunk Tank Pink Zara Hedderman , January 19th, 2021 09:18

Shame's second album proves wonderfully restorative for Zara Hedderman

It must be unusual for anyone to release an album precisely a year after it was recorded to a world completely different to that in which the music was initially conceived. For Shame, that’s precisely the circumstances they’re met with as they unleash Drunk Tank Pink, the much anticipated follow-up to their widely acclaimed 2018 debut, Songs of Praise. Finished in January 2020, the London-based post-punk quintet emerged from La Frette Studio in France with a body of work blisffully unaware of what was to take hold of the world for the proceeding twelve months. It makes the opening line of their brilliant Drunk Tank Pink all the more striking: “Not what you see is what you get.” Fast forward to present day, skip a few lines in the lyric sheet of the same song, and vocalist Charlie Steen poses the question, “Are you ready to feel good?” The answer? Yes. Very much so.

The pressure placed upon any artist to deliver the goods with their second album, particularly when your introduction is as well received as their debut was, is both clichéd and valid. Fortunately Shame have surpassed expectation with a masively ambitious and accomplished body of work driven by propulsive melodies and lyrics delivered with boundless passion. Only in their early twenties, members of the band were barely out of primary school when a certain corner of music enveloped English audiences – and those across the water as well. More than a decade later, the influence of the prominent wave of guitar rock which brought us Arctic Monkeys, Editors, and The Cribs, to name but a select few, is still permeating contemporary artists. For those of us whose musical tastes were formed by that era, Drunk Tank Pink is a marvellously nostalgic record.

Personally, listening to the stop-start chug of ‘Water in the Well’, the math-rock tinged ‘Born in Luton’ and the echoes of Interpol on ‘Human, for a Minute’ instantly brought me back to dusky evenings at my desk hoping that equations for acceleration would lodge into my brain via osmosis whilst dedicating my focus on the hum of music coming from the adjacent speakers. Instead, listening for new bands to tell my friends about the following morning in the locker room before class. There’s a pop sensibility running through certain movements of Drunk Tank Pink – ‘Nigel Hitter’ comes to mind – that become unconsciously ingrained in your head. That thrilling feeling of wanting to share new music with a friend washes over as you progress through the tracklist.

Perhaps it’s James Ford, the record’s producer, who is responsible for this sepia-toned aural experience. A stalwart of that initial scene who worked with Foals and the aforemented Arctic Monkeys. While Ford’s influence can certainly be traced on the exceptionally groovy bass riff and surrounding textures on the irresistible ‘Human, for a Minute’ – an immediate highlight from the record – Shame are very much in the driving seat throughout this record. Their confidence and ease in shifting gears tonally is more than impressive and ultimately makes for a rewarding record to return to. Moving between unrelenting intensity steered by raucous drum fills and heavy bass lines (‘Alphabet’ and ‘Great Dog’) to far more introspective melodies on ‘Snow Day’ and closer ‘Station Wagon’, the band always feel comfortable and in control. What unifies the songs is a strident sense of urgency.

At times, it feels as though we’re hearing the first take of a song. Take the fervent ‘Great Dog’ in which Steen tumbles over his impassioned delivery, redeeming himself with an apologetic, albeit giddy, interjection. Despite this exuberant hue of youth that colours the majority of the arrangements here, Shame are more than capable of crafting anthemic choruses. This ability to move between those realms of songwriting is what sets them apart from countless bands longing to make the leap from practicing in the sitting room of a band member’s family home to dominating a venue and having the audience in the palm of your hand, as was the case following the release of Songs of Praise.

The breadth of Shame’s sound is a key contributing factor to Drunk Tank Pink’s appeal. It’s not one for complacent listening as they are quick to pull the carpet from under you. Songs have a tendency to morph into storms. It’s turbulent, but also exhilarating. You can not help but feel rejuvenated after listening to it. With this record there’s certainly a good time to be had.