With the recent passing of Mark E. Smith, The Fall frontman’s irascible nature has been recalled as much as his incredible body of work. Indeed, it’s hard to separate his reputation as a cantankerous raconteur from the barbed racket that he and a laundry list of musicians made over the years. But whatever you think about Smith as a human being, his discography speaks for itself. What he seemed to intrinsically understand is that the best art is frequently fueled by piss and vinegar and not pretty thoughts about love and happiness.
As evidenced by their debut, this is something that the boys in Shame—youngsters not even old enough to drink legally in the States—also seem to get. Songs of Praise (Dead Oceans) is a record that immediately grabs the listener by the balls and doesn’t let go until the very end of its last track. In an age when too many bands put style before substance, Shame is refreshingly brash, full of the same kind of vitriol that Smith fancied.
Musically, Songs of Praise is a herky-jerky mix of post-punk grooves, sputtering pop hooks, and noisy frayed ends, somewhere between Gang of Four and Iceage. As such, the album is not weighed down by cacophony, but rather traipses along at a brisk pace, with cuts like “Concrete” skating between styles with natural ease. Thrown into this mix is singer Charlie Steen, whose heavily accented aphorisms about love and life are the thread that ties it all together. Throughout the record, he spits out admissions that the rest of us might be too timid to vocalize, no matter how much we may want to. On “One Rizla,” for example, he tells some admirer, “If you think I love you, you’ve got the wrong idea,” over a melting guitar lead. Meanwhile on “Tasteless,” he confesses, “I like you better when you’re not around.”
Indeed, what’s best about Songs of Praise is its utter lack of discretion and pretension. Here is a band, belying its name, that knows its better to be reckless than cautious, better to be honest than polite, and is all the better for it.