Fresh, intriguing + unconventional
Harrison Smith
10:34 21st October 2020

Back in 2017, it was clear that Southend-on-Sea rockers Nothing But Thieves hadn’t at all been plagued by the difficult sophomore-album syndrome. Hit songs like ‘I’m Not Made by Design’ and ‘I Was Just Kid’ enamoured crowds worldwide and introduced their alternative brand of indie rock to the masses. Following on from a coveted Muse support slot and comparisons to big hitters Royal Blood and Foals, Nothing but Thieves were faced with an even more daunting task than the achievement of commercial success - and that was to simply keep it going. 

Album three Moral Panic sees the band trying out something new. While at times it is business as usual - the guitar driven ‘Unperson' kickstarting the album with an unforgiving riff and the lively yet touching choruses of This Feels Like the End’ - you sense the band are eager to branch out of predictability both in sound and in structure. 

‘Phobia’ demonstrates a Billie Eilish-like opening, professing a curiosity for online dating over a menacing melody ("go on: press send and we can make friends") before charging into a hair-raising climax focusing on the anxieties of fame and it’s online scrutiny. ‘I’m on a stage and I just can’t cope / you’ll see this on the internet’: vocalist Conor Mason’s impressive falsetto softens in a moment of downtime to deliver a whispering performance over a dance-floor groove. 

The heartfelt ‘Impossible’ ticks the boxes of a guaranteed setlist closer ("I could drown myself in someone like you"), the shoegazing ‘There Was Sun’ sways back and forth over on a club-inspired drumbeat adding flavour to a collected moment of personal reflection. There is great fun to be had with the funky ‘Is Everybody Going Crazy?’; currently the group's most streamed track, which fuses the theme of modern-day uncertainty ("We're so hopelessly faded / is anyone else feeling lonely?") with watchful observations of the future ("I know it's strange / When heaven's a mindset away’). One wonders whether the single release date so near to the impending March lockdown was merely coincidence or just impeccable timing from the band. 

It could be argued that the five singles prior to the album’s release may well be the strongest tracks. There are moments in the latter half of the album where certain ideas yearn to be explored further: the busy ‘Can You Afford To be An Individual’ hankers for a touch of tightening up. 

Nothing But Thieves are on safe and interesting ground with Moral Panic, however. This complicated third album swerves any sense of Too Many Cooks, instead landing on fresh intrigue and unconventionalism. This is the sound of a band who understand their audience but also delight in taking risks; a band unafraid to mix it up. 

Moral Panic arrives 23 October via Sony. 

Photo: Press