By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)
This might come as a shocking statement, maybe a controversial one to some of you, but Nothing But Thieves had a lot to lose this year. After their stellar self-titled debut in 2015 charted as high as 7 in the UK Album Charts, their 2016 left them white hot, including selling out Brixton Academy and supporting Muse on their Drones tour, with a recent trip to Woodstock Poland seeing them playing to some 500,000 people. Five. Hundred. Thousand. Nothing But the Cream Rises.
Hype, the weight of expectation and the hoodoo around the ‘awkward second album’ could crush a band if they didn’t follow up with a scorcher. Instead, Nothing But Thieves took all that pressure and created diamonds. Thirteen, to be precise, and poured them into an album titled Broken Machine.
The first thing you notice generally about this album is the evolution and the maturity of their sound. There was nothing rough and unfinished about their self-titled debut, but Broken Machine is on another level in terms of sound, variety and feel. A fast moving, dancey rap track like Live Like Animals could have easily bombed, instead it’s a bold change in direction that’s worked a treat. Not only can Conor Mason sing like an angel, he can also rap like a motherfucker, providing a commentary on the state of affairs in the year twenty seventeen, lyrics like “We get our truth from the D**ly M**l” feeling incredibly apt.
Every single that they dropped prior to the release of this album gave plenty of promise and hope, and that quality pulses through the veins of this album. You’ve no doubt heard Amsterdam, subliminally, liminally, or superliminally, which even though it is a sublime track, doesn’t stand out at all on this album. Not because it’s a bad track, it’s because they’re all so good. One track that does stand out, however, is Particles, which is a slow, emotional song that deals with loss and longing for someone, in the same vein as Sorry, but just that bit more heartwrenching. Go find the one you love and tell them you love them. Now.
Whilst there has been an evolution & growth in their sound, there’s still a mix of slow, weepy tracks, and big, filthy, dirty rockin’ tracks, with album opener I Was Just a Kid providing the fast paced, raughty riffs. It’s manic, ripping and the way the vocals in the chorus follow the riff will have moshpits opening up all over the shop. In shops, in churches, hospitals, you hear that track, you’ll lose your beans. Throw your granny down the stairs, sure she’ll need a new hip but hey, that’s rock ‘n’ roll, maaaaan.
Across the entirety of this album is a dark, deep and emotional theme and feel to it. Whether it be the dark, cutting riffs of I’m Not Made by Design or title track Broken Machine, which centres around having and dealing with depression, an important subject and one that’s becoming more and more talked about, so it’s fantastic to see another artist getting that message over the soundwaves. Whilst there’s no link between the songs, the darkness runs through the veins of this album, and really adds to the sound of it.
This is an album where some tracks are purely better than others. Garlic bread with cheese is better than garlic bread without cheese, but they’re still both GOAT tier side dishes. I Was Just a Kid is cheesy garlic bread, whereas Soda is just garlic bread. They’re still great, it’s just that one is marginally better than the other. If we look at the album on its own, without the deluxe bonus tracks, Afterlife is the ideal slow, emotional album closer, something to listen to as a the credits roll.
It’s well worth buying, streaming or stealing* the deluxe edition just to hear Reset Me and Number 13, either deliberately, or very fittingly the 13th track on the album. How either of these tracks didn’t make the final cut for the non-deluxe album is a headscratcher, but with that being said, there isn’t much separating these tracks. If you swapped out the sublime Get Better for Reset Me, you’d just ask the same question as to why the former didn’t make the cut. Very fine margins on a very fine album indeed. The deluxe edition also contains an acoustic version of the heartstring slicing Sorry, and a piano version of the curl up on the bathroom floor and think about your ex and how you ruined everything Particles.
Whilst music, and indeed all art is subject to opinion, one fact in all these fields is that the cream always rises. These bands/artists weren’t here yesterday, but now they’ve just exploded onto the scene and are already being anointed as musical royalty. Nothing But Thieves are pure cream. Both sonically and metaphorically, with their silky smooth songs and the fact that they are a group of extremely talented young men, with an ability to grow, develop and polish their sound whilst taking it to another level,
After such a stellar debut, the stress, pressure and hype of following that album up can kill a band off. You could probably name five bands off the top of your head that were one hit wonders (but for the sake of not doing anybody a disservice we’ll not) and disappeared into ambiguity and disappointing sequels, but Nothing But Thieves refused to crack under pressure, and have brought out one of the finest albums of 2017. This review is subjective, but the one fact in this is that you should go and listen to this album. Right now. This second.
*Do not steal this album.