ALBUM REVIEW: shame, Drunk Tank Pink
Updated: Nov 17, 2021
The spastic drums, angular guitars and screamed vocals that make post-punk music such a singular genre also make it easy to replicate. Bands like Siouxse and the Banshees and Public Image Limited set the scene in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, paving the way for an entire scene for generations to come. I prefer my post-punk fast and mosh-able, full of personality on all fronts, from vocals to instrumentation to production. Songs like “Shut Up” and “City’s Full” off of Savage’s excellent debut Silence Yourself we’re so immediately satisfying without cheapening the art, completely drenched in dread without losing the fun.
Drunk Tank Pink from the South London quintet shame captures that 20-something existential dread; all the anger, sadness, happiness and romantic encounters that come with growing up fast; the music fits the theme to a T. The opener “Alphabet” is lyrically a sarcastic send up of all the do-good behaviors we as a society follow. Praying, following the rules and even the alphabet are fair game for vocalist Charlie Steen. “Are you waiting to feel good? Are you praying like you should?” he sings over bustling drum fills and quick guitar chords. There is such a dark atmosphere surrounding this track and all the others, it feels like Steen is riffing and messing around in an environment that is hostile, like skating on thin ice.
Gang of Four definitely influenced these guys to a large degree, their signature fast guitar riffs can be heard on songs like “Nigel Hitter” and especially on “March Day”. While it’s not anything entirely new for the genre, they bring a unique flair to the established sound, and at points they are equally as catchy and hard-hitting as their source material. “March Day” is an excellent display of everything this band does so well. Steen’s passionate, tongue-in-cheek lyrics about the doldrums of depressive modern life are great, “In my room, in my womb/Is the only place I find peace/All alone, in my home/Yeah, I still can't get to sleep”. The guitars on this track have such a great melody to them, and the drums back it up.
On tracks like the brief “Great Dog” or the expansive, ever shifting “Snow Day”, the drums are the star. After minute 2 of the latter, the drums follow Steen’s manic vocal work in their chaotic nature, it’s a free-for-fall of odd time signatures and devilish drum fills. I love how this track uses all of its run time wisely, a five-minute and 20 second post-punk track is like an oxymoron, preferably these tracks should be short and digestible and move onto the next song. But this song is like 3 or 4 short tracks laced into one, with production that smoothly weaves each piece into the next. The transitions don’t stop there either.
After the hulking, contemplative and woozy psych rock of “Human, for a Minute”, we are treated to a three-track suite that seamlessly flows from one song to another. Not to ironically break up the flow of this review, but damn I didn’t think this band of ruffians had a track like “Human, for a Minute” in them. I’m not usually a fan of post-punk going slow, that was my main problem with the last Viagra Boys album. This track slowly builds its groves and explores themes of depression and not feeling human with such precision, and it wins me over with lyrics like “I watch my bones dry and shatter/For what purpose do they serve?/I don't feel that I can keep them/I don't feel that I deserve/To feel human for an hour”. The band does such a good job at being cyclical both lyrically and instrumentally, adding to the apathy of the track without making me feel any less pumped.
Ok, sorry. So “Great Dog” is the first track in this three-track suite of songs, and it is a perfect change of pace from “Human, for a Minute”, it literally makes me feel human for a minute. It makes me want to push around and jump on other humans at a shame concert with its explosive playing and in-your-face attitude. Even better is the following track “6/1”, criminally short and one of my favorites on the record, it immediately starts with these two sets of guitars playing repetitive lines right on top of each other, with the drums filling in the empty space. Steen lets the band take a break at points as he embarks on these mini-delusions of grandeur solos, these short little bursts of “I KNOW GOD, I AM GOD” that give the track a lot of character. “Harsh Degrees” follows without the band missing a beat, I often forget that these are not the same track. The Gang of Four guitars pop back up in full form, the band in general is going wild and soloing like jazz musicians, allowing each other to rock out at their own pace. The chemistry among these guys is genuinely impressive.
The closer is another barn-burning, long as hell post-punk song. Again, I was skeptical upon first listen. I didn’t want the band to stretch their sonic ideas out just to try to make an impact, thankfully they don’t do that at all. They do take it really slow, building up the track with steady drums and hits of angular guitar chords, as Steen charges up his energy. “I need a new solution, I need a new resolution and it’s not even the end of the year”, I feel that for sure man. Perhaps the greatest thing this track pulls off is how it totally subverts the idea of a “big climatic buildup”. Anyone who’s been depressed knows that the feelings don’t really get to a point of cinematic bliss, they nothingness get more intense. As the pianos on the track seem to be building up to a wild, “Kerosene!”-type fireworks show, the opposite happens. As Steen pontificates about a vapor of light, the guitars and drums begin to gallop, never breaking the buildup. It’s so effective and visceral as Steen just gets more and more loud, it feels like he’s being chased and chased to no end, until it all just suddenly...stops.
Drunk Tank Pink is the best album of the year so far, it’s only been about three weeks but I can say that definitively (Editor's Note: THIS WAS WRITTEN IN WINTER OF 2020) The band is just so dynamic while still keeping everything heavy. They can do long tracks, short tracks, whatever they want to do. The songwriting and style at the core of their music is what keeps me coming back for more. Steen is one of the best post-punk vocalists of the modern era, his lyricism as well as his general presence is just so “f*ck you”, so brash but smart at the same time. Bloody good show lads!!