Propelling Drunk Punk Pink is the same anxious ferocity that characterized Shame‘s riveting 2018 debut, Songs of Praise; that the album won’t steer too far away from that sound is evident from its first few moments of feedback noise. But what seems to have changed on the South London post-punks’ second album is not only the source of that anxiety, but also the way it’s projected outward; the humour and playfulness of their debut have mostly been swept away by a whirlwind of insurmountable chaos. Part of that can be attributed to the exhaustion that came as a result of the band’s relentless touring schedule, and part of it is a reflection of the period of self-imposed isolation that followed when frontman Charlie Steen and his bandmates – Sean Coyle-Smith, Josh Finerty, Eddie Green, and Charlie Forbes – finally returned home. Drunk Tank Pink oscillates and effectively blurs the line between restlessness and listlessness, giving rise to a brooding atmosphere that burrows itself under your skin.
By making what is essentially a post-touring album, Shame run the typical risk of failing to relate to the fears and anxieties of those who haven’t fallen prey to that lifestyle. What’s more, the record isn’t marked by the kind of meta-commentary on fame of, say, Fontaines D.C.’s recent sophomore effort, nor is it populated by as many catchy hooks or subverted mantras that lodge themselves into your brain. But those feelings of depression are cast in such a vague yet pervasive manner that they elicit a gut-level response as urgent as anything they’ve made in the past, and perhaps even more harrowing.
The album is named after a particular shade of pink known for its calming effects, the same pigment said to be used in drunk tanks and which Steen slathered all over the walls of the cupboard in which he sequestered himself. When he declares “In my room, in my womb/ Is the only place I find peace” on ‘March Day’, the final three words are overshadowed by a needling guitar-line and a sneering, ghostly echo of a voice, as if to undercut their impossibility. “Peace” is merely what happens when you replace the noise of the outside world with that inside you, and Drunk Tank Pink deftly holds a mirror to that claustrophobic space.
An album so insular, so stuck in its own perpetual cycle of hopelessness and disarray, probably shouldn’t work. And it wouldn’t, were it not for the band’s revitalized approach: aided by producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Foals), new layers and textures emerge to amplify Shame’s rambunctious sound. The album’s best moments arrive when they take what could have been a meditative cut from Songs of Praise and transform it into a full-blown mini-epic: ‘Born in Lutton’ tumbles its way to a searing, funereal outro; ‘Snow Day’ churns over like an avalanche, Steen’s frantic vocal delivery blowing everything its path and dragging you along with it: “I live deep within myself/ Just like everyone else,” he hollers with such conviction it’s hard not to feel in some way culpable. Even if songs like ‘Nigel Hitter’ and ‘March Day’ plod through the kind of punk-funk grooves that sound almost derivative, they do so in a way that accentuates the theme of identity crisis that permeates the album.
It’s not like Steen isn’t looking for a way out: “Will this day ever end?/ I need a new beginning,” he realizes on ‘Nigel Hitter’; the stunning closer begins with the lines, “I need a new solution/ I need a new resolution.” There are glimpses of connection on ‘Human, for a Minute’, even if the song as a whole doesn’t offer much consolation. The fog is never quite lifted, but by the end, the band seems capable of at least sifting through it. For all its introspective, and at times suffocating, qualities, there’s a real sense of dynamism pulsing throughout the record that’s both incendiary and exhilarating. Dr. Alexander Schauss, who studied the effects of ‘Drunk Tank Pink’, described it as “a tranquilizing color that saps your energy”; there’s little evidence of that here, but that energy is paired with a growing sense of maturity and depth that makes it sound all the more potent.