All (Moral) Panic! and No Disco
Fitting with the theme of 2020, Essex boys Nothing But Thieves have come out with their third studio album Moral Panic, an unabashedly pessimistic, hardly honeyed, undiluted adventure reminiscent of drinking store-brand vodka straight from the bottle. Slow burners are strewn throughout the album and there are songs that can take a while to connect the dots, which can be a blessing and a curse at different points. Some songs fully realise their potential, and some are downright forgettable. That said, there are still ample dynamising thrills packed in when you hear the guitars, incredible string arrangements or Conor Mason’s godly voice belting out the vocals. It’s just that the love isn’t spread as scrupulously through the tracklist this time, making this album feel slightly inferior to its predecessors.
Having said that, let me start by giving credit where it’s due, ‘Unperson’ is a phenomenal kick-off to an album that otherwise had its fair share of mishaps. It has this insatiable drive that punches out blow after blow with its pummelling bass, distorted guitar aggression and Conor’s unparalleled vocal finesse that drives this song straight out of the park.
I wasn’t too excited by the lead single ‘Is Everybody Going Crazy’, just because while there’s nothing terrible about it, there’s nothing to write home about either. However, the second release ‘Real Love Song’ was a work of art in my opinion. I don’t think it’ll float everybody’s boat, but personally I think Mason’s voice perfectly sells the persona’s tragedy of wanting "real love" in his relationship, rather than a characterisation of how we’re always told it should be. The band killed it with a more solemn atmosphere stuffed full of keys, shimmering riffs and strangely catchy lyrics that demand to be sung back with gusto.
The album’s title track ‘Moral Panic’ is a cautionary tale brought to life through the band’s portrayal of the apathetic environment we live in, and I really enjoyed the lucidity with which they manage to sell their case. Oh, did I forget to mention that this album is pretty fucking political? ‘Can You Afford To Be An Individual’ is an exemplification of this, luring you in at first with gushing electronics and dazzling drums, but really proves patience to be a virtue, teasing you and erupting in a way you would just never see coming. Fierce guitars rain down like hellfire, but it all begins with a steady riff backing Conor’s dexterous voice that gradually transforms into a spoken-word-sort-of-hollered speech. It’s weird in the best way, and I adore how overtly and unabashedly political it gets.
‘Phobia’ is another track that I have to talk about, because it really grew on me. It definitely isn’t perfect in all aspects, but I enjoyed the worked electronics rumbling alongside the breathy atmosphere. This track has a standout momentum that precedes a banging dose of anxious pessimism as the persona in the narrative lurches back into madness.
With all these wins in mind, we have to explore the other side of the fence as well. ‘Free If We Want It’ was super strong in terms of vocals but not very compelling or captivating otherwise, with a very conventional structure, monotonous lyrics and way more repetition than required. ‘There Was Sun’ was intended as a brief moment of optimism in the otherwise grim and dark atmosphere of Moral Panic, but it could’ve been handled far more precariously than it was, and I can’t see it ever being an essential in the band’s discography or live sets, and the same goes for ‘This Feels Like The End’.
However, smack-dab in the middle of all these less than excellent tracks was ‘Impossible’, which just made me dive and crash land straight into a pool of my emotions, with its beautifully crafted anthemic rock vibe and lyrics that make you pine for someone you never even knew you loved before hearing it.
Overall, I felt a bit blue-balled by this album, because I kept expecting these long builds to ascend and explode, but instead most of the time all I got was anticlimactic consummations that felt more like unresolved cliff-hangers. I also wish the rhythm section throughout this album had been better attended to, as there weren’t many standout drum or bass moments, and while we can go on about guitar licks and vocal quips forever, and even acknowledge some of the work on the keys and programmed bits, the others seemed to get forgotten and left behind.
Moral Panic was a completely decent entry in Thieves’ catalogue, with some noteworthy bits, but can by no measure be compared to the collective brilliance of their previous releases. I think there’s a distinct line that needs to be drawn between aural stimulation and long-lasting impact, and I am not sure where Moral Panic falls on this spectrum. Fans won’t be bored by this album, and might even enjoy it to an extent, but it is definitely not a game-changer for listeners or the band, and I’m optimistic that Nothing But Thieves’ best is yet to come our way and blow our minds.
- 6.5 -
‘Impossible’, ‘Real Love Song’, ‘Unperson’
Tara Choudhary is a second-year student at King’s College London, who euphemises her indecisiveness by saying she studies the Liberal Arts. She enjoys music, theatre and basically anything she can categorise as “not math”.
This article was edited by Fin Cousins, a postgrad literature student studying at King's College London. He loves sport, music and writing and he is still waiting for Love Island to accept his application. He also made our logo.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
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