It was a mild January morning when I came across Michael Hann’s interview with south London’s Shame. Little did I know, that moment would come to define my 2018, with their debut album Songs of Praise providing the soundtrack to such an important year in my life. Returning to uni for the first time since Christmas, I fought the urge to chant singer Charlie Steen’s addictive lyrics as I marched along the platform at Brighton station, blasting Shame’s non-stop anthems through my headphones. I was optimistic, and Shame’s sound was one of freedom.

Loud, anthemic, and delivered with urgency, Shame amalgamate britpop with the grittier ferocity of post-punk bands like The Fall and the London punk scene of the 1970s and 80s. Watching them live, it’s impossible not to shout along with Steen as he crowd-surfs over your head. Lyrics like “My nails ain’t manicured / My voice ain’t the best you’ve heard / And you can choose to hate my words / But do I give a fuck?” provide a song in defiance of universal fears of imperfection that anyone can shout out loud. They reflect Shame’s carefree approach to music: sure, they’ve created a masterpiece, but they’re equally just having fun. It’s easy to imagine their sound filling arenas, but there’s a beauty to watching them engage with the crowd in a smaller venue, Steen climbing up to the barrier at every given moment so we can sing along with him.

A soundtrack to youth, Shame themselves were only formed in their mid-teens in the Queen’s Head pub in Brixton, which gave birth to other bands like the Fat White Family. Shame is their youth, and for the past four-and-a-half years they’ve been growing as a band, writing songs, finally releasing Songs of Praise, and touring that album until this month.

The urgency of Shame comes not only in their sound, but in their political anger, too. Drummer Charlie Forbes tells the Guardian: “We like to confront those who have committed acts of injustice, by writing snippy songs about them.” Just before Theresa May’s snap general election last year, they released a single about Theresa May entitled Visa Vulture. They wrote on YouTube: “With each day the vacuous Mrs May steers our country closer and closer into the darkness and confusion that is Brexit, no doubt securing the best deal for herself and her cronies in the Conservative party. We would like to take this opportunity to humiliate and debase her frankly evil political record even further with this, the world’s worst love song.”

That anger isn’t lost on the album, with Steen asking listeners on Friction: “In a time of such injustice / How can you not want to be heard?” On The Lick, Steen takes aim at the commodified business of music: “So why don’t you sit in the corner of your room / And download the next greatest track to your MP3 device / So sincerely recommended to you by the New Musical Express”. They have a sense of humour, too: “So we can all sing along and gaze and marvel at the four chord future!” One Rizla, the first song the band ever wrote together, tells a story of angst, anger, and feeling carefree. It’s a joy to sing along to, its sound reflecting their winning combination of anthemic guitars with roaring post-punk.

Part of the joy of Shame is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. Gone is the pretentiousness of many other guitar bands, with their Twitter bio simply reading “joke band.” Live, too, Steen loves to reassure crowds that Shame are here for our entertainment; that they’re just having fun. When they played Reading Festival with a backdrop of two giant inflatable clowns, they certainly delivered on that promise. This surrealist humour is also seen in the opening lyrics of The Lick (“So in the past week I’ve made several trips to the gynecologist / He was surprised to see me standing there / With my golden ticket hanging out of my left pocket”). They may be unafraid to venture into political commentary, and they may have produced a masterpiece with Songs of Praise, but this doesn’t change the fact that they’re ultimately having fun.

With Songs of Praise, Shame have produced an album filled with the energy and urgency that guitar bands need. Something that’s a joy to listen to — its sound and lyrics needed more than ever. The album has provided the soundtrack to my year, and it’s one I’ll never forget. I can honestly say it’s among the best albums I’ve ever heard, and whilst this has been a great year for new music, nothing else that’s come out of 2018 comes close to topping it. The band are incredibly young and may have been “stupidly lucky”, but there’s no question they deserve it. Songs of Praise is an iconic masterpiece. Its sound is powerful and refreshing, and I hope Shame won’t ever be forgotten.

  • Shame have finished touring to work on a second album, but Songs of Praise is on Spotify and Apple Music, and can be bought from your local record store. They were supported on tour by Fontaines D.C., HMLTD, and Sorry.

Featured image: Martin Schumann, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license

Categories: Music

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