The highly anticipated second album by Shame has finally arrived, and it confirms the impression that 2021 has started with a bang and promises to be a very good year for UK music. The South London band has risen to the challenge of the sophomore long player with the same bold attitude they bring to their live shows, and this Drunk Tank Pink, with its eleven tracks, is an energy-packed record that shows all the hallmarks of the reflection they have done on their music over the three years separating it from its predecessor. There is no doubt that Drunk Tank Pink is a more mature work, more reflective in places without sacrificing the intensity that made Shame stand out in the London scene in the first place, with a higher degree of internal cohesion and a more refined sound (the latter also due to a sharp production that preserves the almost-live quality of the band’s sound without sacrificing a certain studio crispness).
There are some records that immediately feel like there is a classic vibe about them: Drunk Tank Pink is one of those. When one reaches the album’s midpoint (marked by the excellent ‘Snow Day,’ one of the most experimental and arguably the best track on it, with an opening riff that is already iconic and vocals that are almost something out of a spoken word performance before exploding in a cathartic crescendo of drum, guitars and voice) the feeling that this is a new entry in the classic punk catalogue is rather strong. While the second half of the record includes more deviations from the snappy, energetic punch of the first five tracks, this is also in a way a rather classic approach, the second half of the album almost representing an intriguing ‘B-side’. In general, Drunk Tank Pink feels like a record that demands to be listened to on vinyl. It might be an interesting exercise to track the many influences it gathers from punk history, from The Clash (see the guitars in ‘March Day‘) to the more recent likes of Fat White Family, with the occasional inkling of hardcore (especially in the vocals: look no further than ‘Great Dog‘ for an excellent example) and something that strays further into New Wave (Talking Heads come to mind, especially when confronted with tracks like ‘6/1,’ with that unique guitar hook). All in all, though, the final impression is that this is all Shame, after finding their voice with a much greater degree of confidence.
The first five tracks of the record are an unstoppable cavalcade of pure energy, as relentless as Shame’s live shows have got us used to: I can’t wait to hear them performed live, as they are all excellent candidates for the kind of rendition that is only possible in a crowded club (though I have no doubt they will convey the same punch at the socially distanced tour the band has announced). ‘Alphabet‘ is a perfect opener with the way it pulls the listener unceremoniously into the record, and ‘Born in Luton‘ would stand up to comparison with many punk classics and come out more than successfully. Latest single ‘Nigel Hitter‘ has that kind of cheeky quality that was so peculiar to Shame’s first album and that has been preserved with the same effectiveness in this second. ‘Water in the Well‘ probably has the best claim to ‘instant punk classic’ status in the whole record, with its mounting riff and confident vocals. The almost-hardcore suggestions are reprised later on by ‘Harsh Degrees,’ though the latter takes a more daring route, exploring dissonance in a way that leaves an impression of controlled chaos.
The great surprise of the album comes, to me, with the more experimental tracks, which play with almost-spoken vocals, echoing guitars, and an almost contemplative sound that somehow manages not to slow down the relentless pace of the rest of the album. I have said of ‘Snow Day,’ most likely the best song in the album, but ‘Human, for a Minute‘ is equally impressive and contains some very touching lyrics, and the closing track, ‘Station Wagon‘ – not by chance, I suspect, the longest in the record – reprises the same kind of dreamy feeling to end on a slightly haunting note that was probably not meant to mirror the mood of the strange times in which the album is being released but somehow manages perfectly. “Will somebody, please, bring me that cloud?” the lyrics ask: the lasting impression, once the album is over, is that Shame have managed to take a piece of the feeling described in some of these tracks, and bring it into our homes.
Drunk Tank Pink is out on January 15th via Dead Oceans – available for Stream/Purchase here.