Shame - Songs of Praise - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Shame - Songs of Praise

by Jon Burke Rating:8 Release Date:2018-01-12
Shame - Songs of Praise
Shame - Songs of Praise

Shame’s debut release, Songs of Praise, is a fascinating exploration of the myriad sounds of the last four decades of British punk-pop. Taken as a whole, the album showcases the artistic range of one of the most emotionally driven, sonically intense bands working today. Individual tracks vary wildly, swinging from pure vented rage (“Dust On Trial”) to clubby Power pop (“One Rizla”) to romantic neo-psychedelia (“Angie”). While the results of this genre buffet approach aren’t always successful, when Shame is “on” their output is nothing less than stunning.

Songs of Praise’s opening track, “Dust On Trial” emerges from a cloud of grimy feedback and promptly explodes into an attack of distorted guitars, angular rhythms and growled vocals from Shame’s frontman, Charlie Steen. The track quickly whips itself into a swirling, snarling mess that, after three-and-a-half minutes, grinds to a screaming halt. It’s a visceral experience, quite unexpected in its ferocity and equally unexpected in the way its hardcore tone belies what’s to come.

Track two, “Concrete,” is pure fun. It maintains the intensity of “Dust On Trial” but without plunging back into the (unnecessary?) emotional bleakness that marked (marred?) the album’s opener. “Concrete’s” bassline races along at a whiplash pace with shimmering tinfoil harmonics whistling over the top of everything to create a sound as uplifting as it is aggressive. Steen comes in with a call and response verse perfectly designed for audience scream-a-longs at future Shame gigs.

Do you feel alone?/ Well, sometimes I do./Do you feel replaced?/I feel like there’s nothing at all./Fearing the unknown?/Starring into the abyss.”

“Concrete” perfectly taps into the civil unrest and angst of the day but instead of feeding the fear and strife, Steen it invokes a rather simple solution, over and over again: “No. More. Questions.” In the end, “Concrete” comes across as a call to action; a shit-or-get-off-the-pot demand for listeners to stop giving in to doubt and instead begin looking for hope. Imagine Eagulls on a combination of speed and antidepressants and you’d have a sonic approximation of the sheer pleasure of “Concrete.”

Unfortunately, Shame follow the perfection of “Concrete” with the mediocre “One Rizla”—an approximation of the kind of Britpop that Blur, Pulp and Suede cranked-out in the late-90s/early-00s. This isn’t to say “One Rizla” is bad—the soaring guitars, catchy hooks and lines like “I’d rather be fucked than sad” are great… just significantly less engaging than “Concrete”. There are a few other slight missteps on Songs of Praise.

“The Lick” is another prime example of a lesser Songs of Praise track. Though “The Lick” has all the smarmy, STI-ridden, lecherousness of The Stranglers’ “Peaches”, it does nothing to justify its existence. The song tells a spoken-word story of a pervy man’s trip to the gynecologist and then shifts into a denunciation of the commodification of popular music. The perversion isn’t enough to make a statement and the music industry commentary isn’t insightful enough to be original. What’s left is a bit like a throwaway Mark E. Smith rant.

Fortunately things pick right back up with “Tasteless”—a witty, guitar-heavy, assault on the dangerously idiotic groupthink that defines high/low art and culture. It’s a bit like a pop-take on IDLES “Stendhal Syndrome.” Similarly, “Gold Hole” directly confronts the oft-repressed, problematic relationship between money and sex. Once again, Eagulls seem to be a direct influence on Shame’s guitar sounds but Steen’s angry vocals, aggressive charisma and intelligible lyrics draw bright lines between the two bands. The album’s epic closer, “Angie” is a slow burn love song about a teenage romance gone awry. The titular Angie’s suicide haunts the song’s narrator years after her death. The song’s climax—a swirling tornado of distortion—shows-off Shame’s shoegaze chops before fading away to nothing…

Shame have recorded a fantastic debut that’s sure to end up on many top ten lists at the end of 2018. I’m certain dozens of reviews featuring puns involving the album’s title are forthcoming. I’ll do my best not to add to that here other than to say Shame’s new record is worth every bit of praise it’s bound to receive.

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