Some Killer, Some Filler
Nothing but Thieves’ third album is another perfectly serviceable rock record: enjoyable and sometimes exciting for sure, but a few more interesting ideas wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Nothing but Thieves have found their groove in the rock landscape. They are one among a declining number of bands that stick to a heavier rock sound, and their willingness to get emotional serves them well. Just as with their previous album, ‘Broken Machine’, ‘Moral Panic’ has a tracklist varied enough to keep the listening experience interesting – and often plays to the band’s strengths.
Conor Mason’s vocals remain the star of the show on ‘Moral Panic’. His control over his voice as it oscillates between soft and intense, tender, and ferocious, is masterful, and it makes some tracks more interesting than they might otherwise be.
It is refreshing to see a rock band that will tackle real world issues head on at a time when many seem to write their lyrics in a vacuum
That doesn’t necessarily save a chunk of this album from being disappointingly mediocre. Free If We Want It is a paint-by-numbers piece of pop-rock, and There Was Sun isn’t much better – only set apart by its distorted, rather ’90s-sounding production.
Impossible – one of the singles going into this album – is also rather uninteresting. Mason’s vocals are rousing and emotional, but the arena-ready ‘oh’s are so transparent in their purpose that its funny. Some of the band’s previous ballads such as Sorry, and Lover, Please Stay, are much better.
:: We couldn't be happier to be able to finally say that our third album Moral Panic is now out in the world. It's about people. It's about you. This one has been cathartic to make. We hope it's cathartic to listen to https://t.co/5Xa4cp32aB :: pic.twitter.com/n11t6xf33F— Nothing But Thieves (@NBThieves) October 23, 2020
Thankfully, the album’s other single shows the band at their best. Is Everybody Going Crazy? is stylish, rough and catchy, echoing the band’s forefathers such as Muse and Queens of the Stone Age. The track is concerned with a theme that permeates much of the album – a fear, sometimes angry, sometimes despairing, of societal collapse or hysteria.
The culmination of this theme is almost at the album’s end. Can You Afford to Be an Individual? is the most surprising new track by far – a Rage Against the Machine-esque protest song that grows in intensity until Mason is shouting and then screaming the extended final verse. He takes aim at all manner of interconnected issues such as social media (‘’our thoughts are tribal, go viral and now its deafening’’) and Trump supporters (‘’you’re a walking contradiction in a MAGA hat’’). It is refreshing to see a rock band that will tackle real world issues head on at a time when many seem to write their lyrics in a vacuum.
There are too many points on the tracklist that feel like missed opportunities
Another highlight is Phobia. It is a slow burner that starts out muted and ominous (I refuse to make a Billie Eilish comparison, and you can’t make me) and soon explodes into an anxiety-fulled banger. The track as a whole rails against the internet – they ‘’f***ing hate’’ it – social media, and celebrity/influencer culture – ‘’I love the night but not the stars/the fame suckers in their block-long cars’’.
You won’t be bored, as such, listening to ‘Moral Panic’, but there are too many points on the tracklist that feel like missed opportunities. The quality of Nothing but Thieves’s third album never dips to outright bad, but a number of songs here feel unnecessary. That shouldn’t overshadow the high points of ‘Moral Panic’, however. There is quite clearly a unifying theme across a number of tracks, all with an authentic sense of urgency, and the album can be legitimately thrilling. Fans of Nothing but Thieves will surely find something to enjoy, but I can’t help thinking that their best is yet to come.
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