Label: Sony Music
Release Date: 23rd October 2020
"Where Nothing But Thieves and Broken Machine explored the polarising levels of slow ballads and explosive guitar riffs, Moral Panic realises true sonic dynamism."
Nothing But Thieves have often erred on the edge of existentialism: Broken Machine toys with the taboos of mental illness, identity, and gender, but Moral Panic transcends these realms. Nothing But Thieves have gone full Camus: this project is a touching combination of political dissent and raw human emotion.
Title track ‘Moral Panic’ defies all expectation: opening with an alt-pop, almost R’n’B style beat, it slowly creeps into an explosion/eruption of fast-paced, driving percussion and guitar. These unexpected influences shine through on ‘Phobia’, with the heartbeat-esque beat created by a shifting drum machine with a bass beat. To draw musical comparisons, this track feels like the lovechild of alt-pop sensation Billie Eilish and rock gods Queens Of The Stone Age, which are certainly polar opposites on the spectrum of musical taste.
There are echoes of the likes of Radiohead and The Prodigy, most poignant in ‘Before We Drift Away’ and ‘Unperson’ respectively. By contrast, ‘This Feels Like The End’ is archetypal Nothing But Thieves: musically, it doesn’t have the depth or development of its counterparts, but the monologue, a first for Nothing But Thieves, pulls it back into something distinctly new.
The deeply personal narrative prevalent throughout Broken Machine shines through in singles ‘Real Love Song’ and ‘Impossible’ as well as new track ‘Before We Drift Away’, but Moral Panic considers the world outside of the vacuum of the band, most poignantly executed on ‘Can You Afford to Be An Individual?’. The latter sees frontman Conor Mason rapping punching lyrics “but now the liberals aren’t liberal, they’re just as venomous / and you can’t have an opinion unless you’re one of us”, which draws fitting parallels with ‘This Feels Like The End’ with its damning critique of social media and the age of information: “we stare at whatever clickbait debate next goes viral. Plastic opinions and drive-thru funerals, everyone has a price.”
So, was Moral Panic intended to be an overtly political project? Partly. The band comment: “the album is, in a lot of ways, a political album – but it was our intention to not make it directly so. Moral Panic hinges on what effect the pressures of the modern world and the information age have on us. It’s about people. It’s about you.”
Length-wise, Moral Panic is perfect: at eleven tracks, it’s succinct enough to draw things to a close before it gets ahead of itself. The LP ends on a high note, with the majestic strings of ‘Before We Drift Away’. Much of Moral Panic champions a capitulating ecstasy in its breakdowns, the highlights being ‘Can You Afford to Be An Individual’ and ‘Free If We Want It.’
This is certainly Nothing But Thieves’ most diverse project: where Nothing But Thieves and Broken Machine explored the polarising levels of slow ballads and explosive guitar riffs, Moral Panic realises true sonic dynamism. From the tenderness of ‘Real Love Song’ and ‘Free If We Want It’ to the thunder of ‘Unperson’ and ‘Can You Afford to Be An Individual?’, Nothing But Thieves have overtly and unapologetically captured a real spectrum of human emotion.
Words by Eleanor Noyce.
23rd October 2020.