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Review: Declan McKenna, What Happened to the Beach?

“A bright future lies ahead for McKenna if he continues to push the boundaries of his music.”
Declan McKenna   Album   Finals   Cover JPEG llxaob

Declan McKenna shakes off his political identity as he looks inwardly for creative inspiration.

Declan McKenna has been on quite the journey since winning Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent competition at just 15 years old. His subsequent breakthrough hit Brazil set the tone for the artist’s politically aware lyricism as he took aim at FIFA and its alleged corruption. With the release of his second album Zeros his lyrical content continued to follow a similar trope, as the scathing lead single British Bombs tackled the seeming hypocrisy of the British arms trade and foreign policy. Now still at only the age of 25, the indie singer-songwriter is releasing his third album, What Happened to the Beach?. There is a definite signal change for McKenna’s approach to song writing on this latest album as he begins to look more introspectively for lyrical inspiration rather than his worldly surroundings.

McKenna took himself to LA and Brighton to write the record and that is reflected in a breezier, more carefree sentiment that imbues the lyrics of this album. The opening track WOBBLE shows the first of this lyrical influence as McKenna playfully warbles “I used to cry at home all night/Now I might in the sunshine”. His vocal delivery on this track is sonically evocative of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, as it is clear that McKenna is going for a woozier, more psychedelic style to his production.

The Beatles influence on this album is palpable, with the instrumentation of the kaleidoscopic and buoyant Sympathy feeling very Sgt. Pepper’s inspired. A musical embodiment of freeing inhibitions, the uplifting track brims with optimism as it builds with blissful brass and piano chords, as McKenna instructs us that “Sympathy is gonna come around/So make peace and discover”. The meandering, self-aware I Write the News serves as a sarcastic riposte to those who perceive him as a political musician, “I write the news/I know you can’t make sense of my southern views”. The tempo switches provide for an intoxicating experience that feels distantly reminiscent of the change between Lennon and McCartney in A Day in The Life.

Mulholland’s Dinner and Wine is a cruising ride that transports you to those hazy LA streets that influenced the track. McKenna ironically sings “I got a boring apartment and all of the drugs” which feels to be a criticism of the superficial LA lifestyle and it not necessarily leading to happiness. The fuzzy, reverb of Nothing Works sees McKenna tackling his critics head on with an exasperated tone, “When I sing the song and you didn't like the verse/I try to fix myself, but nothing works”. This track shows a clear intention that McKenna is not going to allow himself to be creatively restrained by those representing his label.

This latest offering from McKenna is indicative of an artist that is committed to reinventing himself, whilst not allowing himself to be pigeonholed into a singular genre. His willingness to experiment with his sound through more psychedelic elements is a breath of fresh air. The shaking off of the notion that he is a political musician shows McKenna’s authenticity as he continues to discover new sounds for himself. A bright future lies ahead for McKenna if he continues to push the boundaries of his music.

What happened to The Beach is out now via Columbia Records.

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