shame: Drunk Tank Pink

Updated: Feb 26

'Drunk Tank Pink' marks the second album for shame after a two year and a half year hiatus from music.

In recent years, we have begun to see something of a renaissance for the old British institution that is punk - with a variety of acts serving up their own contemporary interpretations.

IDLES crashed onto the scene with some fantastic releases, channelling raw anger and frustration, whilst acts such as Slaves brought punk sentiments to a more modern sound, coupling incensed lyricism with synths and drum machines.

Clearly there’s an appetite amongst younger generations for the dissatisfied itch that punk is so apt at scratching.

However, as with all artistic movements, there will be imitators who perhaps don’t quite live up to the quality of their peers, and I couldn’t help but feel that this might be the case with shame.

The group released ‘Drunk Tank Pink’ quite soon after IDLES most recent record, and opening single, ‘Alphabet’, seemed to echo IDLES a little too closely (this is without mentioning that I found the artwork for the album to be eerily similar to that of ‘Ultra Mono.’)

With all these factors in tow, I perhaps went into ‘Drunk Tank Pink’ with unfair expectations - though I am glad to say that those expectations were surpassed with ease.

Their first album, 'Songs of Praise,' was met with positivity and was lauded for its straightforward, yet tastefully angsty punk rock sound.

Maintaining standards within a punk band can be notoriously difficult, as being in a place of anger and discontent is what often fuels the song writing process.

That being the case, it was all eyes on the south London outfit as to what they’re next release would entail following the success of their first project.

Though punk provides the foundations for the shame sound, I feel that part of the reason this album succeeds and improves upon its predecessor is due to the fact that they draw on so many genres outside of punk. For me, this really hit home on the second track of the album, 'Nigel Hitter'.

The song introduces itself with a very simplistic drum kit and bass combination, which opens up to some angular guitar and just a very slight touch of synth and its instrumentation here is tasteful but the track really locks into place thanks the vocals of lead singer Charlie Steen.

As any good punk vocalist should be, Steen brings a shouty and aggressive tone to the lyrics, yet it was in 'Nigel Hitter' that I realised there was something a touch more unique about them.

The vocals here serve to add complexity and character to instrumentals which are otherwise quite straightforward, with Steen noticeably altering the timbre of his voice from word to word.

This is the point that the Talking Heads influence began to dawn on me and the album took on a more compelling tone entirely, though Talking Heads find their roots in forms of post-punk, their sound never placed anger at its core.

Shame, very effectively, take that repetition and use it as a platform for charismatic yet relentless angst.

This really hit home for me upon listening to 'Water in the Well' where Steen’s vocals are amped up to real Byrneian heights.

His vocals present a playful and almost laid back sound, whilst also being crucial in tying together all the instrumental passages and transitions. This balance of complexity and simplistic emotion can be a tricky one to pin down, but Steen nails it consistently.

That being said, I do want to make it known that ‘Drunk Tank Pink’ has more to offer than being a Talking Heads tribute.

Part of the success of the album is that they wear their influences so openly whilst creating something genuinely interesting.

Songs like 'March Day' present the janky and angular guitar riffage of post-punk artists like XTC, whilst 'Great Dog' sees the band toying with odd time signatures, a refreshing touch given the 4/4 roots of punk.

On 'Drunk Tank Pink', shame has presented a style of punk born out of the appreciation for decades and genres gone by - resulting in an album that is both refreshing in its novelty whilst being comfortable in its homage.

Though there are moments on the album which are perhaps too entrenched in punk antiquity to be particularly exciting, what this album brings to the table is something so progressive for the genre.

Oh, and it also makes you want to headbutt that same wall you've stared at for hours throughout lockdown!