Music Review: Broken Machine
It’s always gratifying to have proof that one of your favorite up-and-coming bands isn’t a one-album-wonder. After a striking debut last year, Nothing But Thieves had considerable potential to live up to, and with the arrival of Broken Machine, live up to it they absolutely did.
If the phrase “take no prisoners” was a sound, it would be the guitar riff in “I Was Just A Kid.” This track gets the album off to an unambiguous start, packing the most satisfying aural punch I’ve encountered since, well, “Trip Switch” - the star track of their first album.
The same pugnacious sound is employed in “Amsterdam” and “Live Like Animals,” the latter taking a sly swipe at one of Britain’s [cough] premier tabloids: “We get our truth from the Daily Mail/It’s madness, get used to it.”
Equally big and assertive is “I’m Not Made By Design.” And yes, the lyrics are about what you’d expect from a song with that title. As I remarked to my wife upon hearing it for the first time, “The sound, I like the sound, but the lyrics are so… heathen.” If it is intended as a takedown of religion in general (and Christianity in particular), it’s not a very incisive one. The lyrics have all the recalcitrant swagger of a high schooler who’s just discovered Nietzsche.
“Soda” is a more subdued and even quirky offering: a welcome reminder that the band isn’t over-reliant on going to eleven to keep our attention. “Particles,” meanwhile, is a better Keane ballad than any of Keane’s actual ballads. (No offense to any Keane fans out there, it’s just the truth.)
Of course, one of NBT’s greatest assets - if not its greatest - is Conor Mason’s voice. That voice is a classically-trained, well-nigh-operatic powerhouse. As Steve Scheibal observed last year:
“Mason sings with sweeping range and spot-on pitch without ever sounding technical. He packs fury into the band’s rockers and heart into its ballads, and his falsetto rovings are impressive without ever seeming contrived. Comparisons to Jeff Buckley are apt, though Mason sings with more fire.”
For those wondering, yes, the album’s deluxe edition is worth buying. A little extra money gets you four more tracks, including beautifully stripped-down versions of “Sorry” and “Particles.”
Keep an ear out for these chaps. They’re going places.