Shame once received a hate letter that read, “Dear Shame… You can’t even compare yourself to a crusty piece of shite hanging from Mark E Smith’s slender arse. Some would suggest that it’s time to call it a day. Give over.”
Well, the London five-piece is audibly indebted to Smith’s revered Manchester post-punk group The Fall – louche vocal delivery, abrasive and atonal guitar and barbed lyrics all present and correct – but debut album ‘Songs Of Praise’ courses with venom and a lithe vigour that is all their own. Along with HMLTD and INHEAVEN, the band belongs to a fertile south London scene that lays waste to the myth that guitar music is no longer a place for innovation, excitement and – in Shame’s case – lyrics that splat in your earholes like lumps of hot, rotten fruit.
Take the fecund ‘Gold Hole’, which sees frontman Charlie Steen smarm his way through a sordid tale of a man seducing a younger woman: “Sweat stains the wrinkles / Tongue touches the hole / His wife’s at work and his kids are at school”. You’ll crave a series of long showers after hearing it. Here he perfects the sickly, simpering croon that he also employs on menacing opening track ‘Dust On Trial’ and the excellent, understated closer ‘Angie’.
Elsewhere, on ‘Tasteless’, he rails against those “distorted by distance”, only arsed when world affairs affect them personally, and delivers the lines with a desperate, hoarse bark. If all this sounds a bit heavy, it doesn’t account for the sense of sarcasm and dark fun that laces the album. On standout ‘Friction’, with its insistent, looping refrain and jaunty, camp drum fills, you can almost hear Steen wink through the lines, “Do you ever need the needy? Do they ever tug on your heart?” He’s deadly serious, and at the same time sending himself up, the sarky shite.
This is a band with a real sense of showmanship, as those who have witnessed Shame’s sweat-slicked live shows will know. It’s this that makes ‘Songs Of Praise’ utterly invigorating.