It’s difficult to be a punk band in 2018 that doesn’t have a hint of political catharsis. Shopping understand this, but don’t attempt to have all the answers. It’s “like putting a tiny band aid on an enormous wound,” explains guitarist/vocalist Rachel Aggs. To keep things light, the band smartly project a persona that’s flamboyant and fun. Take the title of their third record, The Official Body, as proof of this duality. On the surface, it’s a humorous phrase. Read a little deeper, and it’s a subversion of the social construct of what an “acceptable” body is supposed to look like, and how that shouldn’t have anything to do with the talking heads on TV. The band are too busy with their own idiosyncrasies to live up to anyone else’s standards.
The idea was to “amp up the party vibe” for this record, which is neatly portrayed in a pool party scene for lead single “The Hype.” There’s not a good way to look cool dancing to this band, and the extras in the video don’t even try. Such is the payoff for a band that’s so relentlessly energetic. As if you’ve been invited to their party, you get to enjoy yourself in a childlike purity.
This can be a negative. The Official Body, like Shopping’s previous albums, doesn’t lend itself to unsocial listening. Solitary listening isn’t very rewarding either unless you want to dive into lyrics about the upsetting realities of modern consumerism. But, as soon as that happens, it isn’t as sweet as when you take the first bite. Analysis of the group’s message sometimes comes at the cost of its fun.
There are moments when the combination of depth and brevity come to an agreement. “Control Yourself” sees Aggs as the devil on your shoulder and drummer Andrew Milk as the angel. “I know what I like and I like what I know” asserts Aggs while Milk reminds you of the disposability of single-serve products. The slower tempo also works. Not so on “The Hype” where you’re begging the band to speed up. It isn’t that the song is poorly crafted. It’s simply overlong for its punky party vibes.
Although the record is almost exactly as long as 2015’s Why Choose, it feels longer. “The Hype” and “Overtime” share the same exact drumbeat and fills, the guitar tone almost never changes, and the Gang of Four influence gets grating after a few tracks. The Official Body is a wonderful introduction to the band, but will have you yawning if you’re familiar with the formula.
To combat the repetition, Shopping add synthesizer flourishes that sound excellent on “Discover.” Top it off with delayed vocals from all three members and it’s one of the most compact tunes in their catalogue. Shorter track lengths like this are ideal for Shopping’s minimalist production. Proof lies in second single “Wild Child” which is the total package of everything Shopping are capable of in two and a half short minutes. Dancey drums, a monster bass riff, and lyrics that acknowledge the cracks in the facade of one’s idols; just below the surface of pep. The song doesn’t even feature Aggs’ rapid-fire guitar style, but ends up working just as well.
You can’t listen to The Official Body without dancing, which is a blessing and a curse. It’s fun at first, but eventually you’ll need a breather. Seeing the band on their current tour would be the best way to experience these songs. However, if you’re partied out, The Official Body is headache-inducing in its reliance on the UK’s well-established socio-political post-punk tradition.