This album troubled me with a question that I don’t have the answer to and probably never will. How much should originality factor into the way you feel about an album? If a group wears their influences on their sleeve this obviously, is it harder to enjoy? Do you feel like you’re just listening to an off-brand version of a release you already love, or a group that did it better, or are you happy you found more material that’s on your exact wavelength? I mean, ultimately, everything out there sounds like something else. Still, an up and coming band like Shame would benefit from having some element to their music that makes them stand out among their contemporaries. This feels like they’re trying to do the exact same thing as so many other post-punk bands already out there. Listening to this reminded me of the new Protomartyr, or the new IDLES, maybe even the new Preoccupations. Nevertheless, this recent wave of post-punk releases is appealing to me, so I guess it couldn’t hurt to have another solidly enjoyable record in the genre.
Songs of Praise is packed with well-structured songs full of infectious choruses and heavy lyrical and instrumental tones. Forceful guitar riffs and prominent basslines compliment its themes of self doubt, isolation, mental illness, and prostitution. The variation in vocal deliveries is definitely another selling point of the record. It ranges from passionate yelling to hushed/whispered sections to spoken word. Despite a cut or two that don’t stand out much, it’s a pretty consistent release and none of the moments feel like they should’ve been left out completely.
The album begins with Dust on Trial, a track with heavy, dirty guitar leads that gradually increase in volume and emotional gravity. The Lick, a slow burner with an eerie spoken word passage and gradual guitar buildups, is another standout moment. Concrete includes a contrast between deep, relaxed vocals and aggressive screams. Lampoon’s structure resembles a punk tune with its speedy guitars and vocals. The final cut, Angie, is gloomy and somber with whispering vocals and a drifting instrumental; a satisfying conclusion to the release. Sonically, this is a pretty pleasing effort with enough variety and flow to be engaging.
Lyrically, Songs of Praise is fairly emo, with topics like self doubt, isolation, and mental illness. Insecurity takes form in Dust on Trial, which cries out the question “what’s the point of talking if all your words have been said”. Concrete talks about loneliness; “do you feel alone / do you feel replaced / fearing the unknown / craving escape.” The Lick narrates someone’s discovery of their mental illness and cynical welcome of it into their life. Friction asks what you’re really doing to help those who need it and the world at large, with a rhythmic series of questions that begin with “do you ever”.
The lyrics are not working on Gold Hole, tho. It’s not necessarily a problem with the intent of the song (they seem to be about prostitution and a situation where a man’s cheating on his wife), it’s just all-around poorly written. It’s pretty hard not to cringe from how surface-level and graphically gross/unnecessary they are. I find similar issues with One Rizla; I just feel like they’re trying so hard to write something that sounds remotely edgy here that it comes out forced and awkward. “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”, I mean come on. A good amount of the writing seems to be constantly giving me a feeling/idea in the back of my head that they’re trying a little bit too hard, which isn’t a good look.
In conclusion, Songs of Praise includes solidly produced post-punk instrumentals. Lyrically, it’s alright to an extent, but at times the sentiments fall completely flat. In response to my original question, an album like this is still enjoyable. It’s a consistent set of songs with catchy hooks that’ll appeal to fans of the genre. There isn’t much that’s inherently wrong with it. Still, it doesn’t include much of anything that makes it stand out from other groups. A watered-down, mediocre record like this just isn’t going to withstand the test of time. There are artists out there that pulled off this sound better- and did it first. There’s just not much of a reason to return specifically to this album.