As far as third albums go, this is definitely more of an Ultra Mono than a Skinty Fia
In a couple of decades time, when we can have a proper look back at the Third Great Post-Punk Boom (2015-2025), we will be able to get the full picture of who put together the most impressive body of work. As it is, many of the runners and riders are still in their relative infancy, and many of the bands who were only tangentially linked (through producer Dan Carey, for example) have shed their skins and become something else entirely. Crucially, nobody’s released a bad album yet.
In the early days, it looked as though IDLES were destined to set the world alight, and while that very well may still happen, they’ve been smouldering rather than burning. Fontaines DC are the band who now seem to be on the brink of breaking through to the top tier of Rock Stardom, and Black Country, New Road just last year released what many consider to be one of the best albums of all time.
So Shame seem to be caught in a kind of No-Man’s-Land, where they aren’t the biggest, aren’t considered the best, and have been consistently good rather than truly outstanding. Their 2018 debut, Songs Of Praise, was great – if a little derivative – but it was their second, Drunk Tank Pink, that truly established an excellent sound. Here, on Food For Worms, the objective was either to double down on the ferocity, or to branch out into new areas of sonic exploration.
As it is, we find the band in somewhat puzzling form, as they seem to have opted for neither. As far as third albums go, this is definitely more of an Ultra Mono than a Skinty Fia – a consolidation of their position rather than a leap at greatness. You could tell we were heading for dodgy territory when frontman Charlie Steen described it as the “Lamborghini of Shame records” and the press release promised that they’d abandoned their post-punk proclivities altogether. That’s not to say that the album doesn’t pack some serious welly when it gets going – it really does – but for the first time in Shame’s young career you’re left asking, “What if?”
Of the 10 tracks here, some are clear keepers. Alibis and The Fall Of Paul are fiery, raucous numbers that don’t retrace old steps so much as spill blood on them. Wonderful. Fingers Of Steel and Six-Pack (sadly not a Black Flag cover) round out the choice cuts with aplomb – both are relentless and border on overwhelming (in a good way).
However, the album hits a low point on Adderall, which is allegedly about the dangers of prescription drugs – specifically a brand more commonly known in America – because it’s simply too listless to have the impact they clearly intended (the Phoebe Bridgers spot was never going to help that). All The People and Different Person are good, but neither would have made the tracklist for Drunk Tank Pink.
After a strong first and an even better second, this third album finds Shame on the brink of being overtaken by a multitude of hungrier, more potent bands from Dry Cleaning to BCNR, The Murder Capital to Wet Leg. Here’s hoping the fourth gets them back on track.