Shame’s ‘Food For Worms’ kicks off at an even pace before running headfirst into an astute observation: “You’re complaining a lot / About the things that you got given”. ‘Fingers Of Steel’ acts as a warning shot for the London band’s third studio album, a track that’s as vigorous in its erratic percussion as it is vicious in frontman Charlie Steen’s callouts of self-inflicted dissatisfaction. It’s clear that ‘Food For Worms’ is begging to be heard live, a result that Shame explained to NME came from “writing to play” as opposed to writing “in a deconstructed way”.
Following 2021’s ‘Drunk Tank Pink’, the band fell into a creative rut in their attempt to continue with the same intricate and complex writing that nabbed their second album another five-star NME review. But when they shifted their sights on shaping gig-worthy songs under the pressure of a looming show, the sky opened up and 10 immediate, palpable punk tracks fell out. In the weeks leading into a run of intimate shows, the band re-captured the energy that they first tapped into with their 2018 debut ‘Songs Of Praise’; a lively momentum reminiscent of their early days emerged.
‘Six-Pack’, the album’s second track, combines warbling guitar tones, breakneck drumming, and Steen’s climbing deadpan spoken word revelations into the story of “a room where all your wildest desire can come true”. As the jaunt hits a crawling stride towards its close, he leans into a baritone register, explaining that the space of commodities is a full-on trap. “You got nothing and no one to live for” he sings, “but you’ve got this room / And guess what? / This room has got you”.
‘Adderall’, the album’s highlight, comes complete with a chorus as potent as its subject matter, and melodic vocals that call to mind Lou Reed in The Velvet Underground’s similar ode to dependence, ‘Heroin’. The track also features vocals “you can’t actually hear at all” from Phoebe Bridgers, because, according to drummer Charlie Forbes, it had an “American edge to it” and she was working in a studio nearby. Although Bridgers’ contribution may be inaudible, they still hit the West Coast melancholy they were aiming for; on first listen the song takes form as a leisurely stroll, but the incessant howls of “it gets you through the day” and reminders that “your parents really miss you” shove you off course.
Even in the most subdued moments of ‘Foods For Worms’, like the beckoning ‘Burning By Design’, there’s still a layer of impenetrable grittiness. It shifts quickly from downcast accusations to straightforward confrontations, transforming “you don’t care about the feeling anymore” to “I don’t care about the songs that use these chords / I am sure there’s plenty more / But I know they’re not the same”. The arrangements match that energy, culminating in a storm of melodic lyrics, clashing guitars, and drumming that’s both precise and unbridled.
In ‘Different Person’, Shame confront the discomfort of watching someone’s problematic evolution, grasping at who they were before they changed their hair, clothes, and friends. The song lands at the resolution, “You’re still the same to me even though you speak with a different accent now for fun” as a distorted guitar keeps the tempo. ‘Different Person’ flips from derisive, to dizzying, to honeyed, as the lyrics “All these things stick out to me / Changing oh so frequently” pour out at the refrain.
The song captures much of what makes producer Flood’s (Nick Cave, U2, PJ Harvey) contribution work so well for Shame. The album’s production is both clean and messy, chaotic but concise. There’s no striving for perfection and that’s what forms it into something unique and impeccable. ‘Different Person’ also lays the album’s themes bare. “Popular music is about love, heartbreak, or yourself, but there isn’t much about your mates”. Steen told NME of ‘Food For Worms’ thesis statement. But despite it not being specifically about romance, sonically it still captures the feeling of excitement, mystery, and whirlwinds often associated with love, no matter the recipient.
The band has called ‘Food For Worms’ a celebration of life, and it accurately mirrors the weird, layered, loud, erratic, sometimes rapturous human experience, without too much pretence or over-dependence on polish. In an industry where plenty of acts are gunning for streams or TikTok fodder, Shame’s latest offering is a refreshing refuge for those thirsting for music that stirs you up live, and allows you to play witness to a band’s evolution of sound.
- Release date: February 24, 2023
- Record label: Dead Oceans