It’s becoming more and more difficult for aspiring rock bands to gain any type of critical acclaim. In the day and age that we live in, the alternative genre is becoming extremely saturated with bands that are just okay. Ever since their self-titled debut in 2015, Nothing But Thieves has been trying to separate themselves from that pack.
Lead singer Conor Mason has made it clear that he will wear his influences on his sleeve. After listening to their first project, the British band gave me the impression that thy were going to emulate a B-side 80s band. I saw some potential, but I never thought that they fully understood they’re style. They were playing too much into their contemporaries’ aesthetic, and that was especially clear when you could literally hear the inconsistency in their sound. They were a band trying to find their image.
That being said, I was hoping that their sophomore follow-up, Broken Machine, could be their much needed breakthrough. By bringing on The 1975 and Arctic Monkeys producer Mike Crossey for mixing, I thought that maybe Mason and co. were taking a step in the right direction.
Instead, Nothing But Thieves rarely progressed. In fact, they gave one of the more derivative alternative records of the year. Any number of these songs could have been on The 1975’s critically acclaimed record from last year. Nothing But Thieves has found a gray area, where they’re too competent production-wise to be bad, but too bland to be memorable.
On multiple instances throughout the first half of this record, the band was vying for that spot on the radio. Their commitment to creating a catchy guitar riff with familiar percussion mixing is so evident, it’s almost annoying.
Once again, they forget to incorporate a consistent sound, which is troublesome considering the fact they have such a viable producer. The project also doesn’t shy away from being a tad pretentious, especially with tracks like, “I Was Just a Kid,” and “Amsterdam,” where based on the lyrics and explanations of the songs, the lack of abstractness is radiating through.
“Sorry” is one of the few times on here where I can say the songwriting, riffing, and instrumentals were impressive. At least they weren’t trying to add any obnoxious background percussion for “more layers” like on the track, “Live Like Animals.” The latter single feels very muddled and messy with horrid production, and a lack of organization.
Honestly, the title track was my favorite moment on here, especially with a more funky vibe. I kind of wish they would go in that type of direction stylistically, because Mason’s voice fits the aesthetic perfectly for me. Although there was still some Arctic Monkeys or The 1975 influence written all over the electric guitar riff, at least the songwriting was bearable.
When Nothing But Thieves brings a more softer vibe, like on the gorgeous sixth track, “Soda,” they feel a lot more genuine and simpler. Take away the ridiculous voice gimmicks that Mason tries to use, tone it back a bit, and this band may have a shot at going somewhere.
The final eight songs are too redundant and unimaginative to really leave any emotional connection with me. “Afterlife” contains the same formulaic issues that “Live Like Animals” found itself with. And Mason decides to add more vocal layers with production that is overkill on “Reset Me.”
As someone who’s a fan of The 1975’s music, it’s hard for me to get into this album’s message. I cut these guys some slack for the inconsistency on their first project, but it’s kind of inexcusable to make the same mistakes on the follow-up two years later. They sound even more similar to their contemporaries this time around.
It’s too bad Crossey couldn’t bring a unique perspective and act as a teacher to these artists. I love his past work like on the songs “Chocolate” and “Girls,” where the mixing is awkwardly memorable. Sadly, he could’t capture that same magic on this album. In an industry where it’s easy for an alternative band to lose relevance, Nothing But Thieves needs to bring something new to the table before they get lost in the abyss.