The biggest irony of any self-proscribed ‘punk’ movement is that nonconformity can and often will become a way to conform. Take Billy Idol, for example – a glittery, fun, but pretty corporate ‘punk’. Shame were hardly going to avoid the ‘post-punk’ label; they hail from Brixton’s infamous Windmill alongside the likes of Black Midi and Black Country New Road.
However, their latest LP however proves they’ve no desire to stay in one place, as they invade genre after genre, still with their characteristic sense of humour and a clear desire to have fun. Most importantly, they aren’t afraid of a bit of pop!
Described with coy irony as the “Lamborghini of Shame records” by Charlie Steen – the talisman frontman of the pack – Shame’s newest record seamlessly treads the line between the sculptured grit of their debut, Songs of Praise, and the polished power of their more angular sophomore LP, Drunk Tank Pink.
Having chosen to record this instalment live, the five-piece have chosen to lay their mistakes bare. Despite this, much of the LP is orchestrated to perfection, allowing certain tracks to truly shine with live-intensity. The first track and initial single ‘Fingers of Steel’ is a case and point of this – a beautifully intense song motored along by hammering piano and constantly shifting staccato rhythms.
Few bands can make an out-of-tune bass or blatantly wrong note seem like a creative choice, but Shame are definitely one of them – proving their rights as true devotees of Mark E. Smith. The song-writing is also some of their sharpest and most potent. Not afraid to dip into angsty melodrama, there is also a sense that the band of lads enjoyed making this record.
The intense, wah-wah tinged second single ‘Six-Pack’ delights in that frenetic energy, although it does take some getting used to. It is a fun, punky track that grows on you with each treble-tinged listen, but the novelty of it pales in comparison to the powerful angst of ‘Fingers of Steel’ or ‘Different Person’.
Retaining the melodic yet skittish guitar-lines and thundering bass of previous releases, tunes such as ‘Burning by Design’ and ‘Adderall’ seem to lean more into a chorus-driven, frenetic pop that slides away from typical ‘post-punk’ records. The latter almost drifts into a power-pop chorale – a heart-breaking account of a friend losing themselves in addiction to the prescription drug: “I can’t let you slip away / It’s not good for your health”.
The album is centred around “an ode to friendship”: the joys and frustrations within. Each line seems to be less through gritted teeth than their last output, which appeared out of the void of lockdown. Steen himself described in an interview with Consequence of Sound that their sophomore output as a “pretty introverted” album, something Food for Worms is not at all.
The likes of ‘Different Person’ and ‘Yankees’ are themselves dynamic journeys, doused in stunning vocal harmonies they’ve only hinted at on previous releases. It seems this record is more ‘Snow Day’ everyday – a band on top form; clear throats and powerful pipes. They seem to manage a mood somewhere between joyful chaos and controlled angst. With the track ‘Orchid’, it seems as though Steen’s vocals seem to dig deeper as he croons his way through a psychedelic arrangement of acoustic guitar and tambourines, before, as always, the whole thing comes crumbling down in the climax.
At every turn, Shame are looking outward, and you can’t help but notice the sly grins on their faces while you listen. This is a band at their best. They have perfected a distinct roar of guitars; a group built on dynamics, to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end as you walk down the street. Charlie Steen will go from whispering sweet nothings in your ear to barking the obscenities of modern life at your unexpected face. They are everything a ‘post-punk’ band should be: defiant, on the nose, and most importantly, not too serious.
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