‘Songs of Praise’ the debut album by South London five-piece Shame, twitches with a youthful frustration, one that’s centred on social and political injustice, where it’s themes can be translated at street level or on a national or international scale. Both sonically and lyrically, the quintet’s primary outing encapsulates a fresh vigour but one that’s not naïve, despite the band’s tender age (the five members are either 20 or 21), Shame attack each song with a triumphant stance but one that’s not rose tinted. Having been spawned from a fertile South London scene; the kind of scene that’s born by accident and necessity, parts of ‘Songs of Praise’ feel like the living embodiment of the UK’s capital – in the band’s post-punk/indie aesthetic you can hear the familiar hum and clatter of the Underground, the hustle and bustle of its diverse streets but also the tension and unpredictability that comes with living in one of the world’s most iconic cities.
Shame have been assigned with a post-punk tag and mostly that’s spot on, as is the comparison to The Fall (RIP Mark E Smith) and their wiry, sometimes jerky aural soup convulses and twitches with an awkward, frustrated pulse. Opening track ‘Dust on Trial’ is a high-water mark, as it builds from a slow, atmospheric hue to a taut mess of rapid drums, spindly guitar patterns and a rubbery, yet mechanical bassline. Charlie Steen’s vocals switch from husky half spoken/half sung to punky, gravelled yelps as the frontman barks “what’s the
point of talking/if all your words have been said?”. The feeling of being disenfranchised in your native land crops up via “a land of pure confusion/ Known only to the wise/ Where satisfaction is devoured/ Dominated and despised”. ‘Tasteless’ expands the band’s sound but keeps things tight and confined – as razor sharp guitar lines bounce off tight, pacey drum licks. Steen can be heard dispensing with the acidic statement “I like you better when you’re not around”. While the sub-two-minute punk barrage of ‘Donk’ is Shame at the most
dishevelled; a dense ball of static that feels like it’s on the point of collapse that contains Steen’s most venomous moment “I’d love to pick you up but I’d rather watch you crawl”.
Although, it’s not all minimalist post-punk tension; ‘Songs of Praise’ occasionally offers up liberally applied dollops of surf guitar that gives the band’s record a shadowy, menacing bent. ‘Gold Hole’ takes a darker turn, which bleeds into ‘Friction’, albeit with the abrasiveness dialled down a jot. It’s here where Steen flexes his political muscle and it’s evident British Prime Minister Theresa May is the subject of his disdain “do you detach yourself from necessity and apply the act of greed”. Whereas you can’t help but think “you say it’s going forwards but I feel it flowing backwards” encapsulates the nation’s collective derision towards the shambles that is Brexit.
‘Songs of Praise’ is brought to a close by the delicate and euphoric ‘Angie’, a tender track that strips away all the tension and fury that’s come before it to expose Shame’s sentimental side “For this life it serves no purpose without your sweet embrace/and now no angels roam this land/you’ll never be replaced” It’s a swelling jam-like opus that invokes Primal Scream at their most celestial and fitting end yet unexpected end to a great debut record.
‘Songs of Praise’: never truer has an album title been – high praise indeed.
Words and Thoughts by Adam Williams