Executives at Adderall’s maker Teva Pharmaceuticals are unlikely to be aware of the UK’s vibrant post-punk scene, but they’ll likely be hearing about Shame soon enough. The third and best album from the south London band, worm food, reaches an emotional apex in a song called “Adderall,” a heartbreaking tune about watching a friend “break out and run,” consumed by his addiction to prescription drugs. On the bridge, lead singer Charlie Steen’s raspy bark turns into a husky, helpless plea: “I know it’s not a choice/You open the doors/Then you hear another voice.” It’s the closest thing to a power ballad these young Brits have ever made, fueled by a reservoir of empathy and catharsis that only fleetingly bubbled to the surface on their previous albums.
Five years ago, Steen and his bandmates were barely out of their teens when the youthful anger of their debut, praise songs, made them darlings of the UK music press. with 2021 Drunk Pink Tank, they embraced a more complicated post-punk sound: spiky rhythms, sprechgesang, free-association road poems, the works. “We were trying to be too clever,” drummer Charlie Forbes recently mused. The band was classed with a restless new wave of (mostly) British and Irish post-punk weirdos who talk more than they sing and have cryptic names that sound like military codes: Black Country, New Road; dry cleaning; DC sources; Squid, but Shame never felt part of that crowd. His songs had choruses. They chafed at the “post-punk” label; Steen was more influenced by Bob Dylan than by Public Image Ltd.
Now in worm food, their earnest seriousness further distinguishes this band from the nonsensical indifferences of Dry Cleaning’s Florence Shaw or the agitated hysteria of Squid’s Ollie Judge. Recorded live in the studio to better capture their energy on the festival stage, the album has a rousing communal spirit that melts bits of icy post-punk into warmer forms, like the wah-wah psychedelic rock euphoria of “Six- Pack”. or the turbulent frustration of “Yankees,” a bitter ballad in which Steen exorcises a deeply toxic relationship (“When you’re down, you get me down/And that’s love, so you say”). “Fingers of Steel,” with its rickety piano and 20-something tales of malaise, is like Hold Steady for disgruntled Brits who like crooked tunings.
The composition is the sharpest of the bunch to date. They can still whip up the choppy panic attack special (see: “Alibis”), but that’s no longer the main attraction, nor the most compelling material. “Adderall” is the centerpiece of Shame’s new spirit of generosity: it doesn’t dampen the band’s previous intensity, it just pushes it in a new direction.