Shame – ‘Drunk Tank Pink’ review: angst and isolation from one of the country’s best bands

The south Londoners' second album sees them explore their identities through claustrophobic chaos. Despite the delayed release, the timing is just right

In ‘normal’ times, the post-touring album would be relatable to only a few. How many people can see themselves in a world of being perplexed by the monotony of everyday life – instead of new towns, new faces, new adventures every day – when they’re slogging away at a mundane nine-to-five with no end in sight? With normality out of the window, though, Shame’s second album instead raises some points that are a lot easier to identify with.

READ MORE: On the cover – Shame: “If this is a good year, everything can change around”

Written after the south London band – this week’s NME cover stars got off the road from touring their acclaimed 2018 debut ‘Songs Of Praise’, ‘Drunk Tank Pink’ details frontman Charlie Steen’s struggles with himself when the crowds had gone home and he was left alone in his small, pink room. He had to deal with who he was as a person away from his job and away from the constant company of his bandmates and crew. Over the last 10 months of the pandemic, these are questions many have had to come to terms with too, and the album – originally due for release last year – paints pictures of an identity in crisis that chime empathetically with the time we’re in.
All alone in my home / Yeah I still can’t get to sleep,” chants Steen on the fragmented, angular riffs of ‘March Day’. “I can’t get up / I won’t get up.” As the song reaches its climax, its guitars spiral like a negative thought cycle; chaotic and debilitating. On the lurching Talking Heads-meets-The-Rapture groove of ‘Nigel Hitter’, he’s cycling through tedium (“I can’t see no squares / All I see is circles”), but finding wide-eyed wonder in the smallest chores. “Change the sheets on my bed / I wanna smell fresh linen,” he roars triumphantly, before sinking back into the drudgery of isolation: “Will this day ever end?/ I need a new beginning.

In recent interviews, Steen has spoken about his struggles with figuring out who he is and getting comfortable with himself on his own, citing what goes on in his dreams as a big part of that journey. The half-spoken word, half-bellowed ‘Snow Day’ takes you into the world behind his eyes. “Mountains crumble and turn to dust,” he narrates. “Colour slips away just like it always does.” Not all is as gloomy as the tapestry of wiry guitars and Charlie Forbes’ urgent drum rolls beneath him though, the process given him some insight, at least: “I see something new when I fall to you.”


Shame’s debut was defined by the dark humour and snark that formed the very spine of the record. That tone is dialled back somewhat on ‘Drunk Tank Pink’, but there are still some laughs to be had. “This is the last time, Acid Dad!” roars the frontman on the chorus of ‘Water In The Well’, a song with a B-52s groove that references the band’s trip to rural Scotland for peace and quiet, when they were unexpectedly presented with a techno party led by producer Makeness’ dad.

This is massive leap on from ‘Songs Of Praise’ – ‘Drunk Tank Pink’ is more ambitious and more accomplished than its predecessor, showcasing a band brimming both with ideas and the confidence to pull them off.

As with the pink room Steen wrote much of the record in sounds, there’s an oddly comforting claustrophobia here. ‘Great Dog’ – the shortest song on the album and a frenetic, scuzzy punk rollicker – is underpinned by a needling guitar drone that’s uncomfortable and urgent, almost made inaudible by the wall of sound around it. ‘Harsh Degrees’ batters the eardrums in a similar manner, sounding like it’s on the brink of collapse as Eddie Green and Sean Coyle-Smith’s guitars do discordant battle with each other.

‘Drunk Tank Pink’ isn’t just about making as much noise as possible, though. There are some really inventive moments  both in and out of the chaos. ‘Born To Luton’ completely switches from jagged, insistent riff to half-speed and drifting melodies, gloomily reflecting Steen’s longing in the lines: “When are you coming back?/ When are you coming home?” ‘Station Wagon’, meanwhile, mirrors ‘Songs Of Praise’’s final track ‘Angie’ by clocking in well over six minutes. Yet it doesn’t overstay its welcome by a second; the band have crafted a slow-building, often spectral song that looks out from the rubble of the rest of the record and to the future.

I’m going to try and achieve the unachievable,” asserts Steen as it lifts and lifts to an almighty eruption of noise. It’s a fitting end to an intense record that searches for answers in chaos and uncertainty. Whether or not they found what they were looking for, ‘Drunk Tank Pink’ confirms Shame’s status as one of the most exciting bands at the forefront of British music. Long may they reign there.



Shame, Drunk Tank Pink

Release date: January 15

Record label: Dead Oceans

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