Essex five-piece, Nothing But Thieves cite influences including Foo Fighters and Jeff Buckley, both of whom it feels that their first album at points is drawing upon. Nothing But Thieves’ self-titled first album is very much a mixed bag. Opening song Excuse Me makes a strong start to the album with the expressive crooning of vocalist Connor Mason, accompanied by a gracefully minimalist guitar backing, before building up to a fuller sound in the chorus, though the second half of the song is a little bit of a disappointment. Ban All The Music is a more classically alternative rock song, and a brave one – a band on their first album describing the music scene as having “all gone wrong” – but just about works. Wake Up Call is probably Nothing But Thieves’ best known song, and rightly so; the diverse skills and sounds of the band members all fitting together, from the guitar intro, to Mason’s lyrics and its classically hook-laden chorus combining with intelligent verses.
Unfortunately, that marks the high point of the album. The band of school friends all have different musical ideas and opinions and much of the rest of the album feels lacking in a defining sound or mood. The band seem to be exploring new territory without knowing what their natural habitat is yet. The softer, ballad-y feel of If I Get High does not really work for this band; Mason’s voice seems to be forcing emotion and borders on bored in the chorus, and the strange effects in the background add only to the feel of confusion as to the point of the song. Trip Switch flatters to deceive with a highly promising introduction carried by a resonant baseline but slips into lyrical cliché in its over-repeated chorus (the amount of artists who have now used the phrase “lights go down”, a line that should be henceforth banned from musical use, and is not aided in this song by the annoying repetition of down). Lover Please Stay, whilst proving that Mason has an impressive vocal range, tries to sound softly sensitive and only achieves apathy; it bores rather than emoting.
There are some other good songs on the album, though none reach the heights of Wake Up Call. Graveyard Whistling has a sound similar to that of Keane, to which Mason’s falsetto brings a more genuine emotion, as he croons, “No one’s getting younger”. Once thought about, this seems slightly insincere for the 22-year-old Mason, but he gets away with it in the context of the song. Painkiller also is a far better song with the band returning to the more classic alt-rock, which is their stronger suit, with a far more up-tempo chorus.
It feels like I have spent a lot of time on individual songs, but the album lacks something drawing the songs together, sounding more like a collection of singles by different writers than a cohesive album, giving a feeling of a band not yet quite sure of their identity, trying to find in which area they belong. They show enough promise in this album to suggest that this band can do better. The musical talent is there – even in most of the poorer songs there is a good part, be it an atmospheric drum beat or an upbeat riff, but the parts needs to come together as the band find a sound that suits them.