The excitement for a new release by a band you love is a tricky thing. It has to be approached with consideration of an unforeseen change of style. A balance of expectations avoiding disappointment but containing trust is also an important factor – the anticipation of observing the next stage of a particular artistic journey is hard to control.
Nothing But Thieves took a two year (three since the last full-length) break from new music. Announcing their return at this particular time couldn’t be a coincidence, especially considering the name of the new record. Moral Panic is a return to the beloved charm and unique execution only this band can bring out. It stands out with relevance and a graceful highlight of important global phenomena that need attention.
Nothing But Thieves are one of the many capable British modern rock acts that keep pushing themselves to reach new highs with every release. Each record holds the recognizable essence and unique atmosphere the band is known for – the operatic vocals of Conor Mason mixed with various other techniques bringing diversity and excitement; the trademark instrumentals, the tense (in a good way) feel of their music.
All of this is still very much present in Moral Panic – it is just elevated to reach the next level. In terms of topics, the record touches a global scale instead of being strictly introspective, like the majority of their earlier work. It still features a lot of in-depth personal contemplations, but the main focus remains the current state of the world as a whole.
I think the way the band described it puts it best:
This album is about the tension in the air. It’s about the people, it’s about you.
The eleven tracks dissect the self-destructive lifestyle our society has adopted. The dramatic, almost tragic undertone of the record gives the impression of being a haunting premonition. It confirms that if we don’t start taking action, we will bury ourselves in our own idiocy.
I was greatly impressed even on my first listen – I do have an affinity for the band, but what they did with this record was a huge step forward. It is not only something we need to hear but a musical experimentation leading to the liberating evolution Nothing But Thieves needed to go through.
The result speaks for itself – the more you listen, the more you uncover. The consistency shines through, and the thought put into foreshadowing and symbolism starts blowing you away.
Naturally, most tracks in the record can be interpreted in several ways. However, the main goal of Moral Panic is achieved by putting the spotlight on different elements of our many crises in each track.
In-between supporting this concept and exposing society, the band sneaked in some personal reflection and hard-hitting love-related expositions as well.
One of my new dreams is to see this song performed live. Also, the video completes it in a very fitting way – the consistency of the message is worth appreciating.
Unperson is the perfect introduction to the album. Each element of the song is essential to achieve the final effect and highlight the message.
Unperson is someone who has been vaporized. Such a person would be taken out of books, photographs, and articles so that no trace of them is found in the present.From 1984 by George Orwell
The track deals with cancel culture and the manipulation of social media, which leads to complete eradication of any individuality. The process of unpersoning is described in detail during the first verse of the song – slow but steady with a scary result.
The rest of the track proceeds to expose the hauntingly accurate process we can observe in real life today. The fast-paced sound and chaotic vibe contribute to creating a whole environment around the song. Adding the robot-like vocals is also a little detail with tremendous effect.
Track number two picks up the pace and continues the tread very well. Is Everybody Going Crazy elaborates on the theme Unperson started by exposing social alienation, the short attention span of our generation, and the overall obsession with the digital world that starts taking its toll on real life.
The lack of human connection is the main issue highlighted in the song and well emphasized with the addictive chorus.
We’re so hopelessly faded
Is anyone else feeling lonely?
It just can’t be me only
The song also features some of Nothing But Thieves’ most powerful weapons – the hypnotizing instrumental break, change of vocal delivery, and overall catchy verse-pre-chorus-chorus build-up.
A ruthless exposition of society’s current state worthy of being a title track
Moral Panic is rightfully position as track number three – infused with suspense and uncertainty it accurately summarizes the idea behind the album. It is also one of the most addictive songs on the record featuring great changes of pace between verses and appealing metaphors in the lyrics.
Moral Panic is not the only track on the record painting an accurate picture of human error. Phobia uses the feelings of suspense and creepiness to create a scary, dark atmosphere. Gradation of fear, anger, hope, and failed attempts for liberation expose our toxic obsession with technology.
Those themes partially reappear in Free If We Want It – a song with a toned-down sound and a more hopeful undertone. Here, the focus is on choices and making a change for the better. It also features a more in-depth personal reflection and ends up on an inspirational, uplifting note.
We can be free if we want it
(Don’t look back, keep going, don’t look back)
This Feels Like The End also supports the concept quite well with a soothing instrumental and mellow overall vibe. It has some of the most effective lyrics highlighting our degradation as humans (Can you believe what we are seeing?/We devolve into inferior beings). It also includes a fragment at the end, which imitates a news report segment giving real-life examples of our downfall.
Seven reported dead in the street. It permeates everything
It’s in our homes, our chlorinated chicken
Seventeen reported dead. We stare at whatever clickbait debate next goes viral. Plastic opinions and drive-thru funerals, everything has a price. And then you
Your consent is manufactured and you are being sold, categorised and catalogued. Passed on and processed for whatever scheme is next designed to keep us compartmentalised and at each other’s god damn throats
Fifty-seven reported dead, where does it end? Is this it? At what point do we say, no, we are people, surely we are better than this?
There Was Sun is an interesting track to look into. It has a great build-up and vague but powerful symbolic lyricism. The whole vibe of the song is very nostalgic. By looking closer, we can conclude it represents a look back to the times where things were better and we weren’t overwhelmed by uncertainty.
Tension is wrapped around the track to highlight the uncertainty of our future, but the glimmer of hope is also present to indicate we still have a chance of making things right.
Near the end of the record, the robotic vocals return to bring forth another relevant message. Can You Afford To Be An Individual has a very strong political tone and ruthlessly demolishes certain mindsets and views using solid arguments.
It touches on pack-mentality and easy manipulation while making remarks about the current political situation in the US and Trump’s absurdity. With real-life references as supporting evidence, the song makes a strong point at the perfect time. Hopefully, more people will pay attention to this one.
Did I mention Nothing But Thieves are also masters of music videos
The classic Nothing But Thieves aura shines the brightest with the three love-inspired tracks. Real Love Song and Impossible show contrasting viewpoints of this magical phenomenon.
The first one, accurately specified as “real”, emphasizes that love is not all sunshine and rainbows. Real Love Song has a grandiose, majestic feel achieved with the right instrumental arrangement and does proper justice to the feeling of love. However, it points out that real love hurts. A lot.
Impossible also has the necessary majesty best depicted in the outro instrumental. It takes a closer look at the “butterflies in the stomach”, the inspirational and uplifting side of love. It is mostly euphoric but doesn’t overlook the pain balancing out all the high you get from this particular feeling.
Love, it stings and then it laughs
At every beat of my battered heart
The sudden jolt, a tender kiss
I know I’m gonna die of this
The closing act of the album is just as impressive as the opening one. It fits perfectly and wraps-up the concept in the right way.
After exploring the mess we are in and highlighting the need of action, the last piece introduces a “this is the end of the world” type of vibe. It is very dramatic and puts the focus on one of the alternative futures where we “return to dust”.
Despite the overall global perspective, the song also has a very personal feel – it ties in with the romantic aspects of the album. It pays attention to the individual struggles and contemplations amidst the global moral panic.
And as we sing this familiar song
I thought I’m gonna miss your love when it’s gone
Will it flow into the river?
Or will it go to waste?
Before we drift away
I say this for almost every new release this year but it is once again a fact – this might be one of the best and most important albums of 2020. Nothing But Thieves has an impressive repertoire of kickass full-lengths and EPs but Moral Panic easily became my favourite in a matter of a few replays.
The record shows noteworthy evolution both sonically and lyrically. The theme of the album couldn’t be more relevant and the necessity to present those issues in such a way was enormous. The band did justice to their concept and managed to preserve the elements that make them impossible not to recognize while also stepping their game up and bringing something new to the table.
The outro instrumentals in this record certainly stand out and turn into a new trademark for the British rockers. Emotions take shape with the clear expression and the album makes you think – it achieves its goal successfully. Hearing those tracks live would only make things better and I sincerely hope 2021 will be the year this happens.
Leaving you with one epic rendition of Real Love Song
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