Second album syndrome is just a term that was thought up by some hacks back in the day but now seems to hang heavily over every sophomore release. The premise is simple: a band or artist struggles for years to get a record deal which culminates in a debut album comprised of years and years of life experience. The following album, usually expected the be out to the audience with a high-pressured short turnaround, is a rushed and often ramshackle affair. Luckily, for Shame, none of that matters.
Drunk Tank Pink is the kind of second album artists only dream of writing. Somehow, frontman Charlie Steen and the rest of the South London band have managed to not only provide a fresh new sound to their original hard post-punk sonics, but the do it in a way that will only embolden their fans to proclaim Shame the best band around right now. The album may have been a nod to the colour of pacification, but it’s clear that Shame are anything but restful, this band are ready for a fucking brawl.
The story goes that everything from prison cells to psychiatric wards were painted a sickly bubblegum pink after a sociological study in the seventies proclaimed the colour to be pacifying. With their tongue firmly in the collective cheek, Shame have used the juxtaposition of the album’s title to devastating effect. Across the record, the band seem determined to cause trouble.
Following on from 2018’s Songs of Praise was always going to be a difficult thing to achieve. Apart from the fact that the album was as sincere a punk debut as you will find in the 21st century and, therefore, very hard to replicate, a lot of time has passed between the records. While three years may not seem like a lot in the context of history, the circumstances of those three passing years will age anyone beyond what’s physically possible. That said, Shame have pulled it off without giving up on their ethos.
The new album manages to maintain the pace of their debut but delivers it with a few more years’ wisdom. Not confined to the driving sounds of classic rock riffs, the band take on the kind of angular approach that would make Jah Wobble smile and The Banshees blush. It’s the kind of frenetic sound that merges perfectly with Steen’s dissonant view on life — one that feels all too applicable these days.
From the moment opener ‘Alphabet’ kicks in, we’re assured that while Shame may have some new sounds, it is still the same band underneath it all. The following track ‘Nigel Hitter’ is equally bruising but it is on ‘Born In Luton’ that one can hear the complexity of their meeting influences. Not afraid to marry new wave rhythm with Afrobeat bounce, and still bring in the buzzsaw guitar form time to time, showcases a band on the ascendancy and in total control.
‘Snow Day’ is another moment of splendour as the band chug through a glitching rhythm to bring static energy to the track. Equally on their fast and furious punk puncher ‘Great Dog’ the band show-off the beating heart of their origin, but the real moment of evolution comes on ‘Station Wagon’ the record’s closer. Within the six-minute track — an unthinkably long song for the band even a few years ago — we’re given the album’s overarching theme; space.
The sparse song allows us to meditate and ruminate on the album we’ve just heard and really what it’s trying to say. As Steen tries to reconcile the world around him with the images on our screens and the doom that feels ever-present, waiting over the horizon, it’s space that we all need. Space from one another physically and space from the world emotionally.
When writing the album it’s said that Steen took himself into a wardrobe where he would sit silently trying to find a new voice. Painted pink, he called it his womb. While it would be wrong to write-off their debut LP, as visceral and vivacious as it is, it’s hard not to see this album as Shame being born once more.
Pick up the physical copy of Drunk Tank Pink here.