If there were ever such a thing as a mic drop in the form of a musical expression, Nothing But Thieves’ third studio album Moral Panic would be it. Completely outdoing themselves, the band’s modern social commentary manages to absolutely blow your socks off, make you question the morality and purpose of the socks you had, and think about how to go about choosing socks for the future. Confused? You should be, this album has so much going on so bare with me whilst I attempt to process and take in all it has to offer because man does this record go *clap* off *clap*.
The production is immaculate, somehow fusing rock, house and disco music together in a way where each element feels like it’s in a constant battle with each other, yet manages to work coherently in a whirlpool of exposure. Now Nothing But Thieves have never been a band to shy away from electronic and RnB influences within their music, ever since their debut we heard thumpers like Hostage or the title track from the band’s sophomore LP Broken Machine, which definitely have energetic electronic inspiration, but Moral Panic takes it to another level. Imagine the amount of Chemical X put into the creation of the Powerpuff Girls but on steroids, that’s this album’s DNA.
Kicking off the album we have Unperson which is a beast of a banger, the clash of robotic monotone vocals thrashed against the screams of anguish all from Conor Mason, giving this dystopian feel of dread that fits in with the world we live in or at least the very direction we’re heading in the current climate. As I said in the review for this track back in September, it wouldn’t feel out of place in a Hacienda type venue and the more you listen the more it begs to be played in a club like venue through massive speakers to absolutely destroy you. This whole album is the perfect soundtrack to the end of the world. Swiftly keeping up the pace the album spits Is Everybody Going Crazy? At you, a corker we’ve had the pleasure of hearing since March that resonated with us all then, and absolutely still does now. From the menacing riffs and guitar work that cuts straight into your soul, to the melodic and rhythmic vocals that get stuck in your head, this track just heavily demands you to pay attention, gripping you closer to the edge of your seat before the chorus takes it four to the floor and gets you up to dance as the world starts to fall apart around you.
The title track Moral Panic starts off with a sudden change of tone, making you listen to this new perspective, much more a’la Graveyard Whistling, but after the first chorus when the bass kicks in, and drums pick up the tempo, UK garage-like piano lifts the song into a new ballpark that grooves with you with the haunting lines of “This is the last day of my life, yours too / Haven’t you ever seen the ocean look so blue? And if we’re running out of time, she said all of the children are so anxious they’re on edge / Yeah, it’s tense, so tense” with the choruses “Moral panic is setting in / Terror fever, it’s too late to begin”. The song almost feels as if it’s going through an identity crisis, but through that it matches the tone of the track and makes it all the more manic and exciting to hear. Real Love Song follows it and continues this changed tone but sticks with it’s set dynamic. A blissful ballad with some killer riffs that melt you down, it’s that defining song that all the indie kids will cover all year round but to it’s credit, it’s brilliantly deserved.
Next up Phobia takes control and immediately at the start gives off a Billie Eilish vibe, from the 808ish kick drum loop to the quiet whispery vocals, there’s most definitely some inspiration from the gen Z giant, but 1 minute 40 seconds in the song gives us this meaty guitar part that begins to transform the song from Eilish enlightener to regal rocking anthem, which changes tempo later on transforming the vibe of the song almost conveying the feelings of mass panic so job well done lads. This Feels Like the End takes the uptempo afterburn and sticks it on a treadmill. The electronic drums are a great addition to the tonality of this track, and make the chorus pop out so perfectly, the 00s pop-rock guitar chords and acoustic drum kit leading the way for this almost nostalgic sound to match the idea of your life flashing before your eyes before your final moments. Whether intentional or not, the sound design for this album is ridiculous and contains so much reference and meaning you can’t help but listen in awe of the work gone into making it.
We then get to experience a trio of tracks back to back with a much more calmer atmosphere. Free If We Want It is a much more chilled out dynamic, but yet again still showing some influence from the music of the 00s, perhaps subtle Kings Of Leon/Kaiser Chiefs inspiration with the chorus guitar hooks, but unmistakably Nothing But Thieves all the same. Impossible is the flipside to the coin that is Real Love Song, perhaps rivalling it’s online viral cover potential. Impossible is a sweet love song albeit with some twisted lyrics sure, but it conveys the message of how love is this heavy stigma of perfection that doesn’t seem real at first, with the quintessential emotions being flooded by lust “I could drown myself in someone like you / I could dive so deep I never come out /I thought it was impossible, but you make it possible”
There Was Sun continues the vibe but expands it, there’s more volume here, there’s more grit and it helps to convey this beautiful song. Funky melodies sung along to phased glittery guitar which almost signals the synesthesia of sunbeams into your head. This track delves into the realm of psychedelics, the ambience really forcing the space age noise out, and it’s a sound that Nothing But Thieves pulls off really well. The outro also smoothly transitions into the next track which dials the guitars up again ready for a Nothing But Thieves anthem.
Can You Afford To Be An Individual? Happens to be my absolute highlight of this album, from the dirty riff to the perfectly timed melodies, emoting more like rap verses at times, to the actual content of the lyrics being sung. And my god the absolute anger and passion Conor has when he sings is just breathtaking. The pre-chorus breakdown with vocal chopping/sampling, ambient noises and euphoric build up just really nails that Moral Panic idea through sounds before climaxing to a dirty and beefy guitar riff that sends shivers to your bones. Talking of the lyrics, in an interview the band discussed and said “It’s completely pessimistic and lunatic, the lyrics are fantastic and Joe absolutely smashed it. It’s not even saying, ‘here are the answers’, it’s just holding up a mirror like, ‘this is you. Deal with it’. It’s disgusting and ugly”. I can’t really do it justice but I mean just listen to the song and hear for yourself. “So, how’s it bеing a prisoner of your own illusion? Upon a pedestal, revelling in your own confusion / I see you hide behind your altar or your constitution, but you can’t live forever in your own echo chamber” This song isn’t about subtlety, being so politically charged specifically at the state of America currently, but because of that it doesn’t need to be. The point is subtle political songs about what’s wrong with the world and its inhabitants have been done, and not enough has changed, we need more We Didn’t Start The Fire’s and Love It If We Made It’s because the message isn’t clear and it’s not sinking in.
Before We Drift Away closes the album and starts off with definitive Radiohead vibes that is a complete breakaway from the chaos that just ensued with Can You Afford To Be An Individual, like the comedown from a high. The twinkly guitars juxtaposing the staccato violins almost exist as an example on how two completely different and intense emotions and attitudes are pinned against each other all throughout Moral Panic, finally come together in a opposing ended dance, tied together by the final choruses of overdriven electric guitar, dropped off ambiguously to the jangly guitars from the beginning and Conor’s vocals singing “I don’t wanna grow old” ending the album on a note for retrospective.
I think in years to come people will look back on this album in two ways. One being its very of its time, the systematic themes it discusses and the messages it gets into your head, but also see it as an album ahead of its time. I guess it’s up to us as a species what we do from now for the future, whether it’s the division between classes, climate change or a global pandemic. To go forward with hope and ambition for a better tomorrow, in amongst the Moral Panic we are living in now, there will always be hope for those who seek it. But to finish off I mean what more can I say? Nothing But Thieves have made a fantastic album here, from the new sounds delved into, the smooth as hell production, the stench of the present day topics it digs into to just the absolute quality of songwriting that Conor Mason, Joe Langridge-Brown, Dominic Craik, Philip Blake and James Price have completely nailed down to a ‘T’. Only time will tell, but I think this may already be one of the greatest albums this decade has to offer. It’s young, prevalent, dirty, ambitious rock that’s sure to brighten up your day, no matter how dark times may be.
Listen to Moral Panic on Spotify now.