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Album Review: Declan McKenna – Zeros

Myron Winter-Brownhill

What Do You Think About the Glam?

Somehow, out of this hellscape of a year, I come bearing good news. Declan McKenna’s second LP, Zeros, has determined that if we’re all going to die, then we’re going to die dancing, damn it.

Since his break at Glastonbury 2015, Declan McKenna has done pretty well for himself. He followed up a number of promising tracks, including breakout single ‘Brazil’, with a solid album in 2017, What Do You Think About the Car?. On it, Declan showed his skill at writing socially charged indie tunes such as the aforementioned, which takes shots at the Brazil World Cup, as well as ‘Paracetamol’, a tribute to Leelah Alcorn, a trans girl who tragically committed suicide in 2014.

I’m thankful that Declan has not just co-opted a musical style and left the substance by the wayside

Take a look at Zeros’ cover, and it is obvious by the distorted image of McKenna in a silver jumpsuit that we’re in for a different experience. This is the first of many points on the album that he wears his – largely 70s glam rock – influences on his sleeve.

‘Be an Astronaut’’s lead guitar and backing vocals scream Queen, and ‘Daniel, You’re Still a Child’ has a groove that closely resembles Bowie’s ‘Fashion’ from 1980. Despite similarities such as these, I’m thankful that Declan has not just co-opted a musical style and left the substance by the wayside. His writing on Zeros has evolved, while retaining its strength. His songs are not as clearly “about a thing” as before; instead he sets his lyrics in a world that approaches the space opera of early Bowie, and comments on our reality that way. 

‘You Better Believe!!’ has McKenna clinging on to consumer comforts in the face of apocalypse: ‘Oh, I’m sorry, my dear/The Asteroid’s here’, and later, ‘I’m off out to buy a bag of Quavers/And Nike trainers’. Even this setup reminds me of Bowie’s ‘Five Years’, but here Declan has taken his documented admiration for him and fashioned it into something of his own, and of this century. Elsewhere, ‘Sagittarius A*’ has rich kids used to travelling around a polluted world (Cannes, Borneo, the Andes) having to deal with a biblical flood. 

This isn’t a dusty tribute to days gone

Between Zeros and What Do You Think About the Car?, Declan’s vocals have noticeably improved. He sounds more expressive, and comfortable pushing his voice. He can be heard screaming out on ‘You Better Believe!!’, and ‘Twice Your Size’, and his delivery has more personality all across the album – ‘Rapture’ being a particular high point.

Throughout his sophomore record, Declan McKenna makes his influences clear (there’s even a Spotify playlist for them), which means he can’t quite leave their shadow. I could start saying pretentious things here about originality, but if I’m honest, I don’t care. Though McKenna is drawing on a lot of music from 40-50 years ago (christ), this isn’t a dusty tribute to days gone. McKenna celebrates his influences on ‘Zeros’, and builds on top of them with his own ideas to create a record that is at once nostalgic and super modern.

Myron Winter-Brownhill

Featured image courtesy of Stars Are Underground via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @thedeclanmckenna via No changes made to these images.

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