If anyone wasn’t going to fall into that “difficult second album” trap, it would be Shame. How many times do we see bands desperate to write new material while on tour looking out over the car park of their 16th different hotel room of that month? What do they write about? Sadly, it’s all too often about the monotony of being in an anonymous series of hotel rooms. It fails. It’s neither relatable nor debatable.
In comparison with Drunk Tank Pink Shame did the sensible thing of waiting ‘til they got home. After the noise, the nightly exhilarating buzz of performing, there’s a spell playing the returning all conquering hero, and then the horrifying dismal mundane solitary reality of deciding what you fancy for your tea in Tesco, and whether you need any milk. Shame’s lyricist Charlie Steen always has a very perceptive eye on reality, so after speaking of the mental health strains of life on the road, it was perhaps inevitable his writing might focus on that eventual tricky return bump to boring normalness. My experiences are less exciting, but nevertheless I have periods where there is a frantic unstoppable buzz in my head, that no end of slamming my face into a brick wall still cannot still. So, this album talks to me.
I must confess to having contributed to Shame’s frantic touring. I first saw the band in Sheffield Leadmill in 2017 where I was captivated as Charlie took off most of his clothes and poured a can of Red Stripe into his underpants. I will stress, dear reader, it was the performance piece rather than the physical nakedness that struck me. From here, I have caught Shame live whenever I’ve been able to; perhaps half a dozen times and swear they are the best live band. Despite my considerable age and brittle bones, Shame are one of those bands I love to see from the barriers at the front; close and in full action, Happily, Shame fans are a good-natured caring bunch.
I pondered the name of Shame’s new album Drunk Tank Pink. I even wondered if I typed “Drunk Tank Pink” into the What Three Words location app whether you might end up with the location of lead singer’s Charlie Steen’s flat. The album name, of course, relates to a particular shade of pink which is meant to be calming, and which is used in some police cells allocated for angry and deranged drunks (and others) picked up on the streets. It’s probably a poor choice of colour for your child’s bedroom, but it was the colour Steen fancied for his pad; clearly a perceptively subconscious choice to aid his return from orbit to our sorry real world.
The remarkable thing is that in considering the routine after such an extraordinary lifestyle that most of us only experience through snatched weekends away with mates at a festival, Steen describes the return to everyday with a few deft pithy observations. The magnificent moody closer to the album Station Wagon highlights:
“It goes swell with a cup of coffee,
Extra sugar and extra cream
I’m living the dream”.
Musically, it’s great to see Shame have matured. Drunk Tank Pink is an album which seeks to make sense of the noise and then the calm. It’s an album that feels like it presents both the problem and the solution, rather than it simply be an album of angry discord.
Ultimately it is 3 whole years since the wonderful Songs of Praise was released, and although it is 12 months since Shame were in the studio in France for Drunk Tank Pink it is a more mature and solid sounding beast that emerges. There’s still energy and power in the sound, but it remains edgy and out of the mainstream and distinctively Shame for all its differences. There are plenty of tunes that the band can make the audience wild. Tracks like Alphabet give a great chance to shout the lines back at the stage, pulse and punch with the music and for the audience to feel as one mind. Perversely, while the album is about isolation, songs like Alphabet will draw us back together one day soon.
6/1 is a frantic heavy chopping song, which for me really represents the mad discord between the highs of being on stage making the thousand people in front of you lose their nut, feeling like a modern God, and then the pondering of where you can possibly go to in your mind after that extreme high. Steen has shared some of his painted artwork this summer, and that intense focus on something that is needed, must be a great way to deconstruct things. For me to own a piece of that art, is really an extension of the music.
As with Songs of Praise, there are some pleasing variations with the tunes. Nigel Hatter and Water in the Well have choppy punk funk edges which can trace themselves right back to early Hugh Cornwell and Zappa, whereas Snow Day, Station Waggon and Great Dog are hard heavy beasts, that you wouldn’t want to mess with down a dark back alley.
Shame’s Drunk Tank Pink was so highly anticipated and now it’s here I’m not in the slightest disappointed. It might be less immediate than its predecessor, but there’s an incredibly rich source of thinking and reflecting within this album. It’s dangerous territory in the first 15 days of a new year to say it, but I already know at worst, Shame and Drunk Tank Pink is not going to be far away from being my top album of the year, and I suspect the album will become my tableau for 2021.
- Images taken from the band’s social media