Spending time ruminating on how fucked up the world is right now is a miserable endeavour, but a necessary one – after all, the first step to recovery is admitting that there’s a problem. That said and misery aside, the alternative – willfully ignoring what’s going on around us – is much worse. We all have a part to play in helping each other find light in the darkness, and it’s high time that we stop pretending there’s nothing wrong and get to doing that.
The overwhelming takeaway from Moral Panic II, the new EP from Nothing But Thieves, very much aligns with that premise. Despite its limited runtime, the English rockers make the most of every second to hold a mirror up to our immediate context. The result comes as a brutal shock, but it also means that we’ve got our hands on the most meaningful release we’ve ever seen from the band to date. To prove that point, you needn’t even go further than the first lines of opener ‘Futureproof’: “They’re shutting down the protest, yeah, we’re so on trend,” vocalist Conor Mason sings. “Quick, go grab a picture, get that content.”
The hard-hitting honesty of Moral Panic II could be attributed to how organically it came together, with the band commenting that the follow-up to their acclaimed third album of the same name was never planned at the time that they released the original Moral Panic. “It didn’t feel like we were done with the Moral Panic theme,” they justified of the unexpected addition to the series. Oddly enough, they do an even better job of playing into that theme on this record than its predecessor, weaving in and out of disturbing epiphanies and moments of relief in the same way that every day of 2021 makes you want to cry and then burst into laughter.
We’ve always known that Nothing But Thieves could put together one hell of a song, and that doesn’t change on Moral Panic II. There are times where they cite prog-rock inspiration (‘Miracle, Baby’) and others where you can’t tell if you’re listening to a band that’s influenced by Radiohead or even better than them (‘Your Blood’), all imbuing the output of Nothing But Thieves with a newfound maturity coloured by artists that are bolder and braver than we’ve ever seen them before. But it continues to be the combination of that with the meaning behind every song that makes Moral Panic II so resonant.
The magic lies in Nothing But Thieves telling the truth in a way that we’ve never heard it articulated from a band like them. On ‘Your Blood’, they grapple with masculinity (“We’re real men ’til we die”). On ‘Ce n’est Rien’, they call into question the millions of people who have ever offered empty sympathies (“Our thoughts and prayers shall salvage the earth.”) This isn’t Arctic Monkeys or Catfish and the Bottlemen singing about a girl, and Nothing But Thieves aren’t being vague enough for us to mistake or “interpret” their meaning. This is a band that’s calling the world on fire as they see it, and while they may not have the answers on how to repair it, they’ve taken the first step in getting them. And it’s so, so much better than listening to another record pretending everything’s fine.