How U.K. post-punk band Shame made the quintessential album about friendship with Food for Worms
There’s no shortage of records about romantic relationships — what it's like falling head-over-heels for someone, the demise of a tryst, or how it can feel picking up the pieces — but there aren't too many full-length albums solely about friendship.
On their third album Food for Worms (out now via Dead Oceans), Shame intends to change that. There was no better band to do that in the form of a riotous, emotive, post-punk album, too — the London five-piece have been a tight-knit unit since their adolescence and are effectively learning how to grow up together, one wild gig or laughter-filled night at the pub at a time.
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The band (featuring drummer Josh Finerty, bassist Charlie Forbes, guitarist Eddie Green, frontman Charlie Sheen, and guitarist Sean Coyle Smith) broke out in 2018 with their debut Songs of Praise, but originally came up in the London DIY scene. Specifically, their roots were in the South London pub, the Queen's Head, which they practiced out of, thanks to Forbes' dad being friendly with the owner and the band Fat White Family, who also practiced there.
"It was very lawless, but fun. There was a very strong sense of community between the weird people that went there. It was like a nice, little cesspit — and we were graciously invited in," says Forbes. While he and Finerty call it "pretty hedonistic" and "strange environment for a bunch of 16 and 17-year-old boys to be hanging out in," the latter says that they "were so young and excited that nothing really mattered."
To the young punks, it was everything; even being forced to play what would be their first-ever show at the last minute, after only a couple of practices and four songs to their name, was a thrill. Finerty says, "It was almost like being in that environment took away the pressure of playing live. We were already so in it, so amongst it, in a way."
They took that energy, as well as their own trademark grit and rousing presence, and quickly became staples in the London scene in the mid-2010s. The band actually became quite notorious for their Chimney Shitters gigs, or their first headlining shows that they hosted with lineups featuring friends like HMLTD and Sorry. "It's hard to replicate something like that. [The energy of those early days] is really something that can only be achieved by how young we all were and how unknown and how exciting it was at the time," says Finerty.
That being said, he notes the band has transgressed that spirit to their sound on their wily third album Food For Worms. Even though the band says they feel like "old men" nowadays, that can all be attributed to the boyish, unrestrained, nearly lifelong friendship within the group.
Songs like "Fingers of Steel" touch on looking out for a friend in pain, and tracks like "Different Person" explore how jarring it can be when someone you thought you knew starts to change. It even comes out sonically, with swirling, at times delirious-sounding guitars that capture how taxing it can be to try to support someone who's so hurt they struggle to receive it ("Adderall"); or even with sheer funkiness that evokes the joy and escapism of a night out with the lads ("Six-Pack.")
Although their friendship has "definitely evolved over the years," Finerty says, "it's changed less than you'd imagine," and their dynamic is "still stupidly similar to when [they] started the band."
On the record, that closeness comes through, given the maturity of their sound and how earnest it is. Of the themes that primary lyricist Sheen is able to dive into, Finerty says, "I think part of the reason he's able to write about that sort of thing is because we're the most comfortable, and the most familiar, with any person that you can be really."
Specifically, the album applies a sort of tenderness or attentiveness to friendships between young men — which stands-out because of how seldom those kinds of relationships are still genuinely showcased. Forbes says, "I know that for a fact that most of what Sheen is talking about is male-to-male friendship, and he has spoken about how there's not that much music about friendship. It's all usually a bit more intimate than that."
"At least in my life, I feel like pretty much everyone's life, there's elements of very close platonic love or friendship that causes much stress or pain or anger or whatever emotions that can really tear you [apart]. He was thinking it's odd that more hasn't been written about that, or maybe they have and just haven't talked about it," says Finerty.
Just like the five mates being game to play their first-ever show off the cuff years ago, that's more or less how Food for Worms finally came about. While Shame had some material they were sitting on, Finerty says, "We'd been struggling to write, so our management said, 'You're going to play some shows and you're going to do new material,' so that's what inspired most of the record, trying to write for that initial show."
Within two weeks in early 2022, they were back with a full set at the London venue Windmill, which is where they played Chimney Shitters shows back in the day. "It's funny — it was very much like a return to how we used to do things," says Forbes. "Thinking about that first Queen's Head [gig], the show had a similar vibe, and that's what inspired writing for live — because we are a live band, first and foremost — and we've always just been trying to write for the show."
Even as much has changed for the band, going from a group just out of their teens, hyped up by the British music press and indieheads to a seasoned band on their third LP, there's a charm to how friendship has always been embedded in Shame — and now at the forefront of their music.
It's not entirely clear what Sheen is singing about on "Alibi," but it sounds like he's affirming to himself just how much his friends love him, and how that can pull him out of even the darkest place. At one point, he wails, "They love me/You know they do/They love me/The boys in bloom." And Shame, the boys in bloom, deliver on crafting an entry into the lacking friendship album canon — so put it on with your closest circle, get emo, and also let yourself dance and laugh with abandon.