By Chris Zuver, A&E Editor
It is not often that you hear about a band who, from almost out of the gates, hit it right. Yet, with S “Songs of Praise” by Shame, you get that full hit. The young rock outfit are a five-piece band from Brixton, South London and to say the least, their debut is worth a listen.
A handful of music outlets, as well as The Guardian, have given positive praise for this new album, as they should. Paste magazine claims that this new group is “on the shortlist of guitar bands you should actually give a shit about.” On a personal side note, what is the deal with the label “guitar band”? Why can’t it be called rock?
Anyway, the bottom line is that the debut album by Shame is good, even great in some moments. After having listened through for about a week, I have decided that each song individually has its merit, but together, the sum is greater than the parts.
Songs like “One Rizla” and “Tasteless” started as singles and are strong tracks in the album, but are heightened by the collective tracks around them and they strike in the right order.
From the start, we get “Dust on Trial,” which is a steady number, with an ominous post-punk edge over a hard beat. Meanwhile vocalist Charlie Steen alternates between a low chant and a shout, all while avoiding using any melody in his voice. This opening track is a nice choice because it shows a lot of different elements that the band is capable of.
In track two, “Concrete,” we get a charge of energy that lands somewhere between The Talking Heads and Fugazi. The verses are call-and-response, which builds up in intensity. The chorus is a repetition of “No more, no more, no more questions!” which adds to the overall effect.
However, the lyrics are the strong point in the song and seem to be calling out to the listener with declarations like “The time has passed for luck/And now it’s time for hope,” yet, there is also a dash of nihilism as it concludes with “And when the answers trickle thin/You and I can finally think/About the words in which we gave/Were they condemned or were they praised/What was their worth/What was their mean/Laugh as they simply meant nothing.”
Next is the aforementioned “One Rizla,” which is a more melodic, open-aired number. Steen finally uses some notes in his words with a crude demeanor, never bending his notes and sticking to a bare minimum. It is a very tried method of punk vocals and it works well over a backdrop of guitars that beckons the sounds of Nada Surf and My Bloody Valentine.
After this, things start to get really interesting. “This is how it starts,” Steen proclaims in a dark cockney tone at the opening of “The Lick,” easily one of their most unique songs. This is where I began to notice how important the lyrics and vocals truly are to this band. The song is more of a narrated story than an actual song. The lines are told with well-crafted punctuations and drawls atop a mess of driving bass and haunted guitars. I won’t spoil the story for you here, just know that it’s stark, nihilistic, and worth numerous re-listens.
“Tasteless” starts with a disco beat before opening to a strong wall of guitar. It’s a solid punk rock song, with great repeated lines like “I like you better when you’re not around.” There’s less to be said about the song as there is to be heard. Though not one of their strongest bits, it’s certainly welcome.
The following two tracks, “Donk” and “Gold Hole” aren’t exactly the most impressionable numbers either. The former track comes at you like a bum rush of anger and frustration, while “Gold Hole” is a story about sexual lust and greed which, to be fair, is put together well and worth a few listens.
“Friction” shows the political side of the band. Throughout the song, Steen asks questions like “Do you ever dream with the dreamers?/Do you ever weaken the weak?/Do you over use the technique of not thinking before you speak?” The instruments are repetitive with a few breaks between verses for guitar leads which help give a voice to the controversial mood of the song.
As the album winds down, it follows by throwing “Lampoon” at you, and man is it satisfying. The overall message is the value of free speech and it’s done so with a stripped-down hardcore delivery. This song is certainly worthy of moshing at live shows.
The album by Shame ends with “Angie,” which clocks in at just under seven minutes, and is clearly a stand-out from the rest of the album. It progressively builds up and tells the story of a boy who falls in love with a girl who later commits suicide; the boy is left with the memories of her, which follow him. Steen goes through the opening verses by speaking from the boy’s point of view in a dreamy, monotone voice: “Her skirt was silk/Her skin was stained/In all my dreams/She still remains/She lies untouched/Innocent and pure/My only hope/My only cure.” As the song moves on, it opens up and intensifies before finally ending with a loud bang, as the album fades to a close.
If you’re interested in a good rock band—especially if you’re into traditional punk—then check out “Songs of Praise” by Shame and decide for yourself. Everybody knows you can check it out for free online, but I would recommend supporting Shame if you like what you hear and buy the album outright.