Best of 2021 in music

Shame – Drunk Tank Pink

The annals of rock history are packed with songs bemoaning the lot of the artist on tour. You can understand the urge to write them – they proliferate on second albums, when artists who have done almost nothing except tour since their debut search for inspiration – but, nevertheless, attempting to elicit sympathy for a rock band among people who do a proper job for a living always seems dementedly optimistic.

Under the circumstances, you have to take your hat off to London quintet Shame: whatever you make of their second album, they’ve successfully come up with an entirely new variant on a well-worn theme. Drunk Tank Pink – which takes its name from the colour that psychologists discovered automatically weakens anyone who stares at it for two minutes, and which went on to become the decor of choice in cells for intoxicated arrestees and the title of a bestselling book about how subconscious forces affect our behaviour – features songs about heartbreak, but it’s essentially an album about the privations of not touring, the struggle to decompress into normal life (which, in the case of Shame, critically acclaimed but low-selling, includes the aforementioned proper jobs) after two years on the road, during which the band, still in their teens when their debut album came out, are supposed to have played nearly 350 shows.

The timing of its release is an intriguing thing. The music it contains would be potentiated by being performed live, which won’t happen for the foreseeable future; songs largely deal in riffs and dynamic shifts rather than tunes, and the kind of sprechgesang vocals having a moment thanks to Fontaines DC and Idles. Equally, the themes it delves into – dislocation, boredom, the weirdness of a life that was in constant motion suddenly turning static, the urge to fill time on your hands with hedonism – stand a better chance of hitting home with an audience that hasn’t spent the last two years on the road than they ordinarily might.