tue 22/09/2020

Album: Declan McKenna - Zeros | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Declan McKenna - Zeros

Album: Declan McKenna - Zeros

Second album from young prodigy contains some solid songs but suffers from crassly overboard production

All a bit of a blur

Declan McKenna covers many bases. He’s a good looking, teen-friendly pop star who first made waves aged only 15, but he’s also a politically engaged lyricist with aspirations in the region of Bowie and Dylan.

Declan McKenna covers many bases. He’s a good looking, teen-friendly pop star who first made waves aged only 15, but he’s also a politically engaged lyricist with aspirations in the region of Bowie and Dylan. His best songs, then, combine chewy, lyrical bite with adventurous, sonically smart 21st century pop. Just last year he released the single “British Bombs” which raged admirably against its subject matter, but his new album, his second, is out of balance, its songs and themes overwhelmed by ear-frazzling over-the-top production.

The lyrics offer an opaque vision of a world collapsing in on itself, desperation at a relentlessly materialist, narcissistic reality. Opener “You Better Believe” sets the template, the comforts of Quavers and Nike trainers balanced against “Watching your requiem on screen/Gather round for the final scene… I’m sorry my dear/The asteroid’s here”. The song itself is good too but also hints at what’s to come, in that everything’s drowned in production that’s epic but not warm, caustically thrusting but not lovable.

Zeros was recorded in Nashville with Jay Joyce, a veteran American pop-country producer, but the sound here is more akin to a ramped up exaggeration of his work on gaudy US pop-rockers Cage The Elephant’s Melophobia album (if you’ve heard Moby’s gigantic Void Pacific Choir albums; imagine them crossed with Jack Peñate). It’s as if the best songs – and songwriting is not the problem – are fighting a battle against the production. “Rapture” wins that battle, a catchy stomper with a falsetto-flecked chorus, “Emily” too, a Scissor Sisters-ish vaudeville number, but too often the wall of sound is crass and overwhelming, as on “Beautiful Faces” or “Be An Astronaut”. The latter starts out like a music hall-ish Paul McCartney Beatles number but blossoms into a very 21st century approximation of the worst bloated excesses of ELO or Queen.

Beneath it all, McKenna’s spirit and talent swim about, easy to detect. Zeros, therefore, is not a calamity; it’s merely a misstep.

Below: Watch the video for "Daniel, You're Still a Child" by Declan McKenna

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