Shame — Songs of Praise
January 12, 2018
London, UK / Dead Oceans
Out of all of the 2018 releases thus far, Songs of Praise is the album that I have taken the most time trying to get acquainted with. London quintet Shame’s debut is a blistering post-punk record with a lot to talk about, and it doesn’t waste its time with any niceties.
Shame showcases all of the necessary rock fundamentals on this album with visceral layers of guitar and unwavering percussion, but the venom fuelling this instrumentation is channelled through the musings of loquacious frontman Charlie Steen.
Steen serves as a one-size-fits-all mouthpiece for twenty-something culture on Songs of Praise as he spills his guts on matters like love, adultery, and the various mediocrities of contemporary life. Even when honing in on his own imperfections, Steen doesn’t take constructive criticism from anybody but himself as he steps up to the moral podium.
“Dust on Trial” opens the album up with distant, looming guitar passages that quickly encase the listener like vultures circling the sky above a wasteland. Steen’s vocals come in like the hum of an ominous wind before the chorus of the song sweeps up into a ravenous sandstorm. Steen offers to “hold your hand and walk you to the promised land” before the instrumentation starts to blare like an emergency alarm, making the idea of refuge sound all the more welcome.
Other cuts on the album take a much more artful approach, like the hasty “Concrete” which would almost sound at home on Ought’s Sun Coming Down if not for the acerbic vocals screaming “No more questions!” in retaliation to the overwhelming culmination of a crumbling relationship.
And how does it feel?
How does it taste?
Would you rather it’s real
Or would you rather it’s fake?
We can bring you up
We can bring you close
The time has passed for luck
And now it’s time for hope
The band even dabbles in what sounds like beat poetry on the song “The Lick”, as Steen relays an anecdote about acrylic paintings on the ceiling of a gynecologist’s over some steady guitar strings. The second verse, meanwhile, rambles on about the efficiency of MP3 players and how you can play your favourite music at your friend’s house and skip right to the good parts. This “relatable not debatable” mantra trades off with a comparatively simplistic chorus refrain that only serves to show that Shame themselves aren’t above watering their style down for the masses if it gets them a hit.
This take on modern society carries over onto “Tasteless”, an ode to mediocrity with a marching kick drum beat and repetitive lyrics that poke at people’s acquiescence towards social monotony. These tracks are where Shame’s talents shine through the brightest, as they demonstrate a knack for sharp songwriting that can trade off with colourful instrumentation, even when they are playing in the mud with their contemporaries.
Sadly, these satirical takes on uninspired songwriting manifest themselves subconsciously on tracks like “Friction”, whose instrumentation could fairly easily be substituted for that of “Tasteless”. As much as I enjoy the song’s lyrical themes about one’s good intentions and well wishes not representing their actual moral output into the world, the instrumental doesn’t leave a lasting impression the second time around.
Other cuts like “Gold Hole” and “Lampoon” fall similarly flat as Shame’s style continues to stretch itself thin, even if the vocals are still as compelling as they’ve been since the beginning. “Gold Hole” is particularly abrasive, detailing the story of a girl who sells her body for expensive luxuries. While Shame is probably the first group to sing the words “Louis Vuitton” in a post-punk song, there’s little else other than the lyrics that set these songs apart.
He bought her diamonds
He bought her pearls
He made her whisper that she’s daddy’s girl
She wants the money
It comes with his cream
So she closes her eyes and pretends it’s a dream
Even though I wish the second half of this album was able to keep up with the first, I did end up enjoying this album overall. If nothing else, the group have proven themselves to be a new and exciting voice in the indie rock scene. It’s clear that Shame are a band with a lot to say, and hopefully on their next project their sound will better reflect that.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: Dust on Trial / Concrete / The Lick / Tasteless