Shame, “Songs of Praise”

Songs of Praise

Bona fide guitar music is troublingly on the outs in America, with hip-hop and indie-folk essentially dominating the musical zeitgeist. But in the UK, a few genuinely exhilarating six-string heroes have emerged of late—two of the most noteworthy being King Krule and South London’s Shame. The latter seem to possess the keen ability to nick all the best bits of English post-punk, easily weaving all manner of nuance into an otherwise explosive wall of aural fury.

Their forceful debut Songs of Praise opens on the eerie droning of “Dust on Trial,” with the cheekily named singer Charlie Steen snarling, “What’s the point in talking / When all you want to be is safe?” It’s not so much a question, as a blanket condemnation. He’s not having us.

“Concrete” takes all that socio-political indignation and layers it over an aural anxiety that owes no small debt to Joy Division’s “Transmission.” Steen again has little patience for our complacency, furiously spitting “No more, no more questions!” as if he’d been subjected to three full days of police interrogation.

Seriously, he wails unfailingly with all the command of a 1977 Joe Strummer or Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman, his scratched-throat roar eerily recalling the latter. Indeed, when he entreats, “Would you rather it’s real / Or would you rather it’s fake?,” you’d better have the right answer at the ready. When they slow it down to dub-speed for “The Lick,” it only gets more sniggering and sardonic: “Salutations are in order / To welcome forth our sweet disorder.” A manifesto, if ever.

What makes this all powerful is just how musically accomplished Shame are, despite the high-anxiety relentlessness of their sonic gospel. Drummer Charlie Forbes lays down symphonies of thunder, and guitarists Sean Coyle-Smith and Eddie Green seem to have listened to a sufficient amount of Ride and Chameleons—and so know how to manipulate effects to give nearly every moment a sense of majesty and urgency.

The record closes with “Angie,” Steen suggesting that someone, “Disappear into nothing / And find your happy place.” Pretty sure he’s being sarcastic…again.


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