At the stirring conclusion to Shame’s second album, singer Charlie Steen finds himself confronted by an unfamiliar concept. “Voices shatter in disbelief,” he rasps, “that anything could ever look so” — he pauses and takes a deep breath, before uttering the unaccustomed word: “beautiful”.
There was not much beauty on the London quintet’s first album, 2018’s Songs of Praise, despite its exulting title. Its world was dirty and compromised, “a land of pure confusion”, in the words of one of its songs, where “the soil leaks red”. Steen and his bandmates — guitarists Eddie Green and Sean Coyle-Smith, drummer Charlie Forbes, bassist Josh Finerty — made a racket to match. They were members of a loose grouping of punk-influenced bands centred around Brixton, recalcitrant weeds in the manicured landscape of a rapidly gentrifying London.
Drunk Tank Pink finds them in a more introspective state of mind. There’s an element here of “difficult-second-album syndrome”, but the five-piece turn the difficulty to their advantage. Themes of burnout and ennui run through Steen’s lyrics, the product of a madcap touring schedule following their debut’s success. In “March Day”, he can’t get out of bed. “Snow Day” finds him hankering for “the fresh air of freedom”. But the music, produced by James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, is animated.
Steen’s allegorical tale of being locked outside a house in “Born in Luton” is illustrated by fast rhythms and riffs, intricately arranged like overlapping components in a busily working mechanism. In “Great Dog”, guitars rev and whirr like an engine operating at maximum capacity. The beautiful thing that Steen discovers at the end of the album is present throughout it: a design for action.
‘Drunk Tank Pink’ is released by Dead Oceans