Album Review: Shame – Drunk Tank Pink (Dead Oceans)


Where have Shame been since the release of the critically acclaimed ‘Songs of Praise’ in 2018? The answer is everywhere, and then it was nowhere. After an extensive touring schedule that saw them go to the ends of the earth to perform their punchy debut for the adoring crowds, the band returned to their native England to be greeted by a pandemic and a lockdown, which has heavily influenced an excellent sophomore effort in Drunk Tank Pink.

Away from the thrills of touring and the joys of being constantly accompanied by their bandmates, the group suddenly found themselves at a lonely juncture. Their usual haunts were out of bounds and no longer viable, they were facing up to themselves alone for possibly the first time in years. 

Guitarist Sean Coyle-Smith barricaded himself away, barely leaving the house and even becoming bored of his beloved instrument, he began to dedicate his time to experiment with different tunings and deconstruct his listening habits at the time, that of Talking Heads and Nigerian High Life resulting in the usual Shame sonics, with an added tinge of agitated intensity. This is shown in the frenetic Snow Day, which changes tempo and attitude at what seems like a constant pace. And the Talking Heads influences don’t stop there, a synth line riding behind the usual suspects in Born in Luton sounds like an offcut from Speaking in Tongues. This is a very welcome change from their last effort, which at times could become quite stagnant on a full listen through, but Drunk Tank Pink does a good job of keeping things lively and fresh.

This could be attributed to the acquisition of James Ford on production at La Frette Studios outside Paris. The instrumentation is more fleshed out and there are added subtleties that I felt were missing with Songs of Praise, particularly in the percussion department on songs like Water in the Well, for example which mixes things up well. 

Frontman Charlie Steen found himself at his own crossroads, being away from the stage and the crowds, he was short of something to find pleasure in, and the self-medication that carried through from dealing with the hectic touring schedule was not exactly one fit for prolonged wellbeing.

 Introspection was the next port of call for Steen, converting a laundry room in his shared flat to be small bedroom, he locked himself away to write and reflect on himself. The room, painted a specific shade of pink used to pacify those drunken arrested in the cell, not only brought about the name of the album, but it also produced a calm in Steen that has led to some of his more emotional and relatable numbers. However, with the focus shifted in this way it feels as though the witty cynicisms that made the last album as good as it was have been placed on the backburner. Despite this, the darker introspective cuts like Human, for a Minute, provide a smoother, more relaxed haven away from the immediacy of the rest of the album. “I never felt human before you arrived”, drones Steen in the former, perhaps a note on how the band felt about one another being apart after the last few years crammed together across the world. 

Station Wagon closes out the album, a stark contrast to the abrupt opener of Alphabet. Ever the punk poet, Steen speaks with attitude over a rolling bassline and a steady beat, his voice growing in angst before all cuts out and income these soft keys. The gentle piano guides you as Steen begins again, speaking in effervescence as more instruments join the marching brigade which he leads. The song ultimately crescendos in an ambient shoegaze fashion with Steen roaring over the top, a brilliant atmospheric end to eclectic ensemble of tracks.

What Shame have created here is their emotions in music, and I feel it’s their most relatable work to date. Whilst we aren’t all Rockstar’s coming off of the back of a multi-year-tour before being shoved indoors and told to stay there, I’m sure we can all equate to the descriptions of the mundane that frequent Drunk Tank Pink, the menial every day that we have all gone through in the last year, we’ve all had those days where we’ve awakened with the same thoughts as Steen in March Day; “I can’t get up, I won’t get up”. 

Shame are back, and it’s good to have them.