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Album Review: Nothing But Thieves “Dead Club City” 

Welcome to Dead Club City: a concept album bursting with characters, narratives and a walk-on part for a band called Zzzeros who, say their creators, “are desperate to find fame and status in the sleaze of the DCC but end up chewed up and spat out by the city”. Welcome to the escapist’s paradise. Your perfect life awaits. 

Platinum-selling English alt rock band Nothing But Thieves – comprised of Conor Mason (vocals, guitar), Joe Langridge-Brown (guitars), Dominic Craik (guitars, keyboard), Philip Blake (bass), and James Price (drums) – have spent years cultivating their dynamic sound and now they welcome us to their new age after a decade of exploration. Over the course of three studio albums, the group have accrued over 2 billion worldwide streams and established themselves as a triumphant force in modern rock. Today they release their highly anticipated new album, Dead Club City, via RCA/Sony Music. An amalgamation of styles, influences, and desires, the album pushes the limits for where a band can go sonically and intellectually.  

The concept began when thoughts of the future left a big question mark. Brandishing the ideas they meditated on in preceding projects Moral Panic (2020) and EP Moral Panic II (2021) certain schools of thought took precedence. On their newest LP, Dead Club City is an expansive idea, presenting as “a place, a mindset, a metaverse with cocktails and free membership.” Dissecting celebrity culture, social alienation, personal relationships, Internet subset culture, class, political movements and culture wars, the list goes on. All are welcome, as long as you’re a member. Fans can join here

Recorded and self-produced by guitarist Dom Craik, these 11 songs are vividly alive with big ideas, pop hooks, soul flourishes, hip hop beats, crunchy riffs, Conor Mason’s remarkable slinky falsetto, and horizon-wide ambition. 

Debut single “Welcome To The DCC” was released to high praise and quickly shot up the charts as the band’s highest charting track to date, with over 15million global streams. It serves as an invitation to the club and opens the album in a confident and assailing punch that not only signals the band’s more sonically left field sound, but also advertises the world of DCC. The perfect curtain-raiser, it’s a rock song with an experimental funk edge that soars with 80’s influences.

The album’s tracklist is formed by different characters and story arcs taking place in and around the city. Is it a shared consciousness? Another world? A purgatory we are already stuck in? We’re not told where we’re going, but that we’ll enjoy the ride. This dystopian, societal-focused dancing through doomsday approach signifies the band’s transition into intellectual-play and unabashed genre blending of rock, disco, soul, funk, and hip hop. There’s plenty to offer and no-holds-barred in this universe, as exemplified by the album’s singles “Welcome To The DCC,” “Overcome,” and “Keeping You Around.” 

The spacey “Keeping You Around” sees Mason shoot for a laidback rap-style delivery and reserved R&B vocals atop a hypnotic trap beat. With sharp and precise lyrics, he portrays the story of a love turned sour and cleverly points to their newly built world as an escape. “Dead Club / So low / So good at pretending it’s fun though / Head fuck / Won’t go / So tired of being tired, you know,” before slyly referencing their 2017 acclaimed album, Broken Machine: I wish I could make it easy / I’m still a broken machine, babe.” 

Notably drawing on influences that would normally be deemed as “guilty pleasures,” Nothing But Thieves strive for instrumentation and production that feels fun and freeing. Track “City Haunts” plays with this matured blend and arguably sounds like anything but traditional for the band. Mason’s sinuously sassy falsetto atop a grunge-turned-disco backing fuels the track’s potency and thrives with high aspirations. Its cadence and stylization falls somewhere in between Josh Homme-influenced production and Prince’s panache for dramatic, untethered compositions. 

Despite the historied taboo of concept albums within a band’s otherwise autobiographical discography, they successfully tackle the concept to have equal parts dynamic and compelling storytelling, and no fear of misinterpretation for a song taken out of its context. A prime example is the glittery “Do you Love Me Yet?” where we are introduced to the adventures of Zzzeros, a fictitious band within the DCC universe. With cinematic flair and synthesized nuances, visions of Blade Runner dance through your head. Zzzeros’ ambitions are explored in the shiny, Eighties pop-soul gem but whose dreams may have died by the time we get to the languorous groove of “Talking To Myself.”

The album’s only ballad takes shape in the softly distorted lull of “Green Eyes::Siena,” which sees the protagonist finally finding what they’ve been searching for, even if it’s out of reach. While the song is a beautiful reminder of Mason’s range and the band’s expert restraint, it is unfortunately the impetus of the album’s less memorable tracks that follow. 

Our journey ends through the twists and turns of “Pop The Balloon,” a multi-part, pan-genre  symphony. With a hip hop drumbeat, fuzzed guitars and a middle eight that explores a synth-prog odyssey, the track is anything but expected. This final note explodes in a sci-fi focused alternate reality, with clashing metal and distortions that feel full-sensory, we’re thrown from the DCC universe just as it’s getting good. With the first half of the album proving stronger, this type of conclusion feels too premature.

A decade in, Nothing But Thieves have made a record that’s the sum of all their ideas, experiences, influences and ambitions. A more hopeful version of the band than we have ever seen before, it’s the near-nihilistic moments where they turn inward to explore themes of grandiose prophetizations that feel utterly captivating and provoking. Gorgeously produced with a high attention to detail, their critique on society and deep exploration into their imaginatively colored world presents as a fully rhetorized composition, perhaps their most thorough to date. An invitation is waiting— you won’t ever want to leave Dead Club City. 

Nothing But Thieves Online: Website | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok | Twitter | Spotify | Apple Music

About Emma Furrier

Boston-based music writer and reviewer. Passionate about rock and roll, vinyl collecting, and any dog I’ve ever met.

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