Release Date: Jan 12, 2018
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
It’s a sign of influence and intent when the debut album from London youngsters Shame could be described by album titles by The Fall. Cerebral Caustic? Check. Bend Sinister? Check. Middle Class Revolt? Check, check, check! Harnessing the spoken/sung stylings of Mark E Smith suits Charlie Steen’s vocals perfectly, as they dredge through the detritus of modern living, smearing the dirt from the rubbish and waving it as a flag of warning against complacency..
Emerging from a South London scene full of scrappy, drawling punk bands and sharing a rehearsal space with the notorious Fat White Family, Shame could be forgiven for opting for style over substance. With debut singles ‘Gold Hole’ and ‘The Lick’, though, they began to rally against this assumption. The pair of tracks presented a band that couldn’t care more. Their follow-up, ‘Tasteless’, was even more hair-raising: propulsive, confrontational punk provides a towering base upon which vocalist Charlie Steen puts the world to rights with generous helpings of wit on top..
Loveably sarky and sordid work from the fantastic south London band 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.
Shame began life sharing rehearsal space with Fat White Family at Brixton’s Queen’s Head and they’ve gigged with all the current buzz-building London-centric types including Goat Girl, Dead Pretties and recent Domino signing Sorry. Songs Of Praise, however, makes it abundantly clear that this talented young outfit won’t need to ride their contemporaries’ coat-tails from hereon in. Indeed, this dark horse of a debut isn’t just vastly superior to most of the recycled indie landfill swilling around – it’s one of the most emotionally-charged guitar-based debuts to be unleashed over the past 12 months.
There’s something dangerously exciting about music that feels like careering into the darkness at breakneck speed on a rusty mine cart with faulty breaks. That’s exactly how it feels to throw yourself into Shame’s phenomenal debut album, Songs of Praise. It’s an intense expedition into the feral corners of the minds of five South London school friends raised on a diet of The Birthday Party and The Fall. From start to finish, Songs of Praise is tightly wound, ready to explode, and packed with lyrics dripping in a heady cocktail of venom and sarcasm. .
If London is the bedrock of European punk, then the district of Brixton is its spiritual center. With a heritage stretching from The Clash to Fat White Family and beyond, it’s an area long-marked by diversity, political unrest, squat culture and, more recently, gentrification, giving it an infamous reputation as a creative hub and a kind of haven for misfits. It’s from Brixton’s most notorious pub, The Queen’s Head, that the latest group in its history arises, the pug-nosed quintet Shame, and finding themselves on the shortlist of guitar bands you should actually give a shit about..
Post-punk is such a long-running style that its 21st century practitioners sometimes sound like they're going through the motions, but Shame's Songs of Praise is a reminder of just how vital it is at its best. On their debut album, the South London band certainly recalls legends like Television Personalities and Gang of Four, as well as newer acts such as Iceage and Savages. But even if the framework of their music is familiar, the energy they bring to it feels new, electrifying their songs as they bridge the personal and political with wit and fury.
It probably gets tiring fast for bands to be constantly written about in terms of their youth, but with Shame it’s hard to avoid it. It’s writ large from their tongue-in-cheek debut album title Songs Of Praise (ripping from the long-running BBC Sunday hymnal broadcast), the barely post-pubescent faces that adorn their pig-hugging front cover, and especially in the music itself that rages from first second to last burning the fuel of their jejunity for all its worth. The genesis of the group comes from an extra-long summer break between their final two years of secondary school when they were just looking for a way to blow off steam, and soon found themselves as the nucleus of an up-and-coming South London rock scene.
On Sunday afternoons, one of the BBC’s oldest running shows, “Songs of Praise,” fills certain British living rooms with the angelic choirs of the country’s church services. It is an institution—traditional, stuffy, and royally approved. The fact that Shame’s debut LP shares the name indicates the quintet’s sense of humor. Songs of Praise threatens to storm into those god-fearing living rooms like an uninvited black sheep, staining the image of safe Britain with post-punk hymns of disgust.
The most you can ask of a young band is honesty. Inauthenticity is as transparent as it is deadly and even the slightest scent of it can doom an act to a short lifetime of irrelevance and anonymity. Fortunately, Shame pass the authenticity smell test; unfortunately, their genuineness exposes the fact that they are a band without much new to say. When we have the taut, minimal rage of Idles, the self-possessed political punk of Dream Wife and the situationist rock.
Shame have long since earned a reputation as one of the most exciting, visceral, feral live experiences in the country. The South London wrecking crew’s live shows boast an incredible intensity, a sense of risk, of daring, a feeling that this could all end, all collapse within seconds – but, somehow, it doesn’t. Replicating that on record was always going to be a difficult feat, so let’s get this out of the way first: They’ve completely blown the competition out of the water, producing one of the most thrilling, intoxicating, ludicrously entertaining British guitar records in an age.
At a recent gig, Shame’s lead singer Charlie Steen took off all his clothes and jumped straight into the crowd without missing a beat or taking a breath. It’s a pleasure to report that the reckless abandon of those live shows has transferred seamlessly onto on their debut album. Right from opener ‘Dust On Trial’, Steen is strenuous, breathless, volatile.