Nothing But Thieves’ Dead Club City: The Future is Bleak, But It’s Here If You Want It

Tomorrow is closed, there’s no future at all” sings Nothing But Thieves frontman Conor Mason three songs into new album Dead Club City on the powerful Tomorrow Is Closed. It’s a thought which has probably been on the mind of many the last few years, and one which we’ll come back to for years to come as the planet we live on continues to decline. It’s also a thought which has been lifted straight out of the world Nothing But Thieves built for their first ever concept album. Dead Club City is a “city sized members club“, and over the course eleven tracks Conor Mason and co. paint a vivid picture of this dystopia disguised as a utopia. Because are you even a band if your fourth release isn’t a concept album?

Opener Welcome to the DCC introduces listeners to the ideal universe of Dead Club City by means of disco-lite beats (yes, there are handclaps), wavy synths and a relentless swagger the band had never quite dipped their toes into yet. “All the heaven, all the time” promises Mason during its four-to-the-floor chorus, with second single Overcome marking what is perhaps the band’s first ever road trip anthem. You know, the kind of song you play as you cruise down the highway with your mates in 1986. Joe Langridge-Brown’s soaring guitar solo towards the end only hammers this home, paving the way for an emotionally laden chorus. This emotion carries on well into the aforementioned Tomorrow Is Closed, one of the album’s standout tracks. There’s something about Conor Mason’s voice which just knows how to strike a chord, especially when paired with Langridge-Brown’s songwriting. “The only piece of heaven I ever had” wails Mason, accompanied by a pulsating rhythm section (courtesy of James Price and Phil Blake) and Dom Craik’s guitar noodling. “It’s time to embrace the insane, it’s all we’ve got left” continues Mason. And he’s right, because what have we got to lose?

Nothing But Thieves are no strangers to a bit of RnB, having dabbled in it on previous releases. Keeping You Around is another venture into this, and serving as a nice sonic juxtaposition against the double-whammy of groove-flecked cuts City Haunts and Do You Love Me Yet? The former finds its inspiration in Queens of the Stone Age’s dancier output, with added synths straight out of the Gaspard Augé handbook. The latter, on the other hand, sounds like it could have been produced by Giorgio Moroder. It’s a welcome change in direction for a band who have never shied away from trying something new, and lyrically it highlights the pitfalls of fame, exploitative behaviour and the lengths you’d go to become “flavour of the week“. “If I stop fucking around, I’d be worth a fortune” laments Mason, ahead of a brief mid-track tempo switch which segues neatly back into the track’s wavy synths. Members Only draws us back in with arena-worthy guitars, and it wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on either of the band’s first two records (2015’s self-titled and 2017’s Broken Machine).

Green Eyes :: Siena marks a moment of calm in the proceedings, stripping things back to just vocals, guitar and strings. It’s a twinkling moment of transition between the bulk of Dead Club City’s sonic assault and its final trio of songs. Foreign Language is Nothing But Thieves at their alt rock best, with the added synths reminiscent of M83 and occasional stabs of guitar akin to Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Mason’s vocals give the song that classic NBT edge, soaring in the chorus in a manner similar to penultimate track Talking To Myself. Usually, Nothing But Thieves end their albums on a slow song such as the aforementioned, but on Dead Club City they bid farewell to this utopian anti-paradise on the frantic Pop the Balloon. It’s a frantic barrage of noise largely concerned with taking things to the extreme – down-tuned guitars, tempo changes, and an unfettered sense of impending doom. It’s definitely up there with the band’s heaviest releases to date, and it achieves this feat with ear shattering precision. Just as you think it’s all over, a menacing guitar line rises from the ashes almost as though it were creeping up on you. “Who am I to chastise you?” asks Mason, a musical explosion almost imminent at this point. And once it comes, it’s nothing short of ferocious.

Dead Club City is an interesting place, one which Nothing But Thieves have managed to present us with equal amounts of vigour, panache and energy. It doesn’t quite hit the same heights as predecessor Moral Panic, but what it lacks in certain areas it definitely makes up for in world building, new directions and emotion. The future is bleak, but it’s here if you want it.