In a world filled with uncertainty and destruction, almost nothing offers more inspiration as lively as the current events, and the British rockers of the acclaimed indie group Nothing But Thieves are no newbies to skilfully mixing politics, mental health issues, and social struggles with their own experiences and turning it all into magnificent songs. It comes to no surprise then that this is also how the group’s latest work, their third album ‘Moral Panic’, came to be. It’s an album that doesn’t shy away from spotlighting today’s world and its problems. The tension in the air. And all of us.
At its core, ‘Moral Panic’ acts as a mirror for all of us, for a society that has become too idealistic, too ‘Hollywood’ and too afraid to face its darker sides. The record’s opening track titled ‘Unperson’ quite literally personifies that, having lead singer Conor Mason cry out about the loss of himself, in a modern world where demand beats supply not only with material goods but with living, breathing people, making him question his identity while being convinced he’s an ‘unperson’, someone not fit for ‘public consumption’. The song screams of frustration of a youth being drowned out by a regressive ideology in a world where ‘is not what you think it is, it’s worse’.
It’s the beginning of a story that is continued in the band’s ultimate hit of this year ‘Is Everybody Going Crazy’, a song that could’ve not been released at any better moment, right when the world started to shut down in the midst of a global pandemic and toilet paper unexpectedly became a somewhat new currency. It’s a heavy-hitter that comes with its own dystopian edge, but also a sense of comfort that we might not be alone in these times of emotional struggle.
‘This is the last day of my life‘, grief-stricken words chanted by Mason, are what follow at the start of the next piece, the eponymous ‘Moral Panic’, a song that proves that Nothing But Thieves might have more trumps up their sleeves than what they make it seem. Packed with a captivating beat that almost resembles a dance hit, the track feels as light as it is heavy, with lyrics talking about a state of panic and anxiety, but a rhythm that makes it impossible not to move with it.
It is at that moment that the album turns onto a new page, one that is filled with hope and the discovery of love. Shining tracks ‘Real Love Song’, ‘Free If We Want It’ and the ever so enchanting ballad ‘Impossible’, which has only recently become an even bigger blessing to the ears as an orchestral version recorded live at the famous Abbey Road Studios, have the band repeatedly look behind the romantic, idealistic nature of love and reveal the unrequited or almost painful reality that many of us experience all too often. Hymnic and of terrific wildness, the songs sparkle with triumphant-euphoric melodies, which Mason performs with moving, almost operatic vocals, and grainy, addictive guitar riffs that help lead them to a perfect balance.
The biggest surprise of the album – and it might be seen as the heavy, guitar-based black sheep – comes with the album’s number 10, titled ‘Can You Afford To Be An Individual’. Usually, a band to embody their stories and experiences in metaphors, this almost scream-ish track has the group instantly get rid of all thoughts and hints of double-meanings, with Mason roaring ‘Oh, you are you a walking contradiction in a MAGA-hat’ and ‘So who are you to tell us where we do and don’t belong / And who are you to tell us who to love and who to not / Because your mother told you, you would win when you were young’. It is obvious that the song is addressed at Donald Trump, the 45th and current President of the United States, a political figure the band has expressed resentment towards on countless occasions, and the overall heated political climate. It is without a doubt the most daring track of the whole LP, but also the hardest one to not fall for, as it introduces a new side of the Southend-On-Sea-based five-piece that sparks a longing for more.
A ray of sunshine is what the closing piece ‘Before We Drift Away’ feels like then, with a strong classical base embedded in the background and Mason’s stunning voice sending a message so hopeful and personal that there could hardly be a better way of ending this album. With it, the whole record, which until that point had come with its own expiry date, suddenly gets a sense of infinity, like it will still be there long after this is all over and we are all gone.
It’s that mix of huge monstrous riffs, energetic, sometimes angry, sometimes loving lyrics and calmer, more reflective moments, all of which feel so beautifully connected, that brings ‘Moral Panic’ close to near faultless. There’s a sense of scale unrivalled by near enough any other release of this year, with astonishing lyricism, stunning vocals, and incredible musicianship that might just coin Nothing But Thieves as one of the most exciting and intriguing indie-rock bands out there. Born from a time that couldn’t be more uncertain, the quintet has created an expressive little work of art that urges listeners to engage with their own minds in order to bring a dash of positivity to a steadily darkening world. One that could not possibly need it any more than right now.
Nothing But Thieves third album ‘Moral Panic’ is out everywhere on the 23rd of October via Sony/RCA.
Text by: Laura Weingrill // photo credit: Jack Bridgeland