Declan McKenna is a singer/songwriter and multi instrumentalist from Hertfordshire, England.
His debut album “What Do You Think About The Car?” was released in July 2017 with McKenna being 18 years old at the time of release and between 15-17 when most of these songs were written and crafted.
Influences in McKennas music are apparent but in the world of music being available at a touch of a button it is no surprise that an artist so young trying to make his way in the world of rock music will see influences seep out through his music.
In most reviews of this album his age is going to be mentioned (I’ve already done it twice now) but this isn’t what you should take from this album and commend McKenna because he has written some songs and he is only 18. His age whilst obviously a factor in his lyrical content and take on the world is only a small part to what are some very good songs and he hasn’t made a good album for an 18 year old – he has made a good album full stop.
The front cover of the album is an extreme close up of his face much like that of Jess Glynne on her debut I Cry When I Laugh (2015) or x – Ed Sheeran (2014). I mention these two albums because the picture on the front of the album is not really Jess Glynne or Ed Sheeran or in this case Declan McKenna. It is photoshopped version of them that is to appeal in some sort of sexual way.
Whilst none of these artists are ugly human beings there is no need to produce such a cover to essentially change the feel of the album. The pose McKenna is making on the front cover is very suggestive when this isn’t an overtly sexual album at all. It would alter peoples perception of what this album is going to be like.
The opening track is proceeded with some audio of when McKenna was a child and asked “What do you think about the car” which was his inspiration of for the album title.
“Humongous” is the first track is a cracking opener. There is a sense that you have heard this track with is melodic structure but despite the the influential nature flowing through the track it is still a stand out on the set.
The chorus is big and anthemic as McKenna sings about the loss of human interaction with obsession that people today have with their phones and other issues that ultimately are redundant.
The most well known song off the album and the one which drew my attention to McKenna is “Brazil”. This is a song I couldn’t believe was being sung by someone so young because the maturity displayed on such a song is incredible.
It’s difficult not to have this as the best song on the album as it is one of the best songs I have heard in 2017. A great rift, crisp production without making it sound too smooth, and a great use of vocal from McKenna.
The song is apparently a protest song against Football governing body FIFA in relation to their awarding Brazil the 2014 World Cup which was surrounded in controversy.
McKenna flows through this song with delightful ease and this a a real delight.
“The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home” sees McKenna explore the theme of young people being excluded from the Political debate and there is a sense of anger at the way ‘kids’ are patronised as if they cannot understand many of the issues that are happening.
The second verse touches on the point that kids can be sent to war and that is acceptable but let them have a voice about issues in the country and that’s not right.
Again McKenna has a knack for catchy hooks that speak to a pop music sensibility without losing it’s genuine rock and roll aura. A nice guitar solo sees the song play out before the chorus kicks in one last time but this time with the voices of young children in the background. Reminiscent to “The Wall” from Pink Floyd.
The 4th track “Mind” was always going to suffer when you have three big tracks opening the album. This one is just a little drab and lyrically seems to be him as a young man in a party setting as things are spinning around him due to being under the influence of alcohol. Easily forgettable.
“Make Me Your Queen” is a track referring to a relationship that is breaking down. This is the first time we hear McKenna speak about relationships and interactions between two people. The feeling of not being wanted by somebody and the protagonist in the story asks to “Make Me Your Queen” which is in reference to being subservient and ‘lesser’.
It’s good to see McKenna attempt to make sense of relationships and perhaps ones that are abusive despite being unintentionally so. It’s a decent track although the vocal layering is a little over produced.
“Isombard” is a big track. It fits in with the other hard hitting songs on this album and it a real hook laden piece of magic. The song is another chance for McKenna to put his thoughts about the political world into a song and this one focuses on the state of patriotism and the right wing media agenda. It’s another song which shows startling maturity.
Track 7 is “I Am Everyone Else”. This explores the theme of friendship and the break down of a friendship because of the other person essentially talking behind your back.
Lyrically this is the only song I suspect gets caught up with a younger and less worldly Declan McKenna in the way it talks about friendships as most ‘older’ people know how friendships can be difficult to maintain due to personality differences which get too difficult to fix.
“Bethlehem” is another clever track as it deals with some seriously subject matter in a guise of a quirky little rock/pop song. McKenna speaks about the hypocrisy of religion and how it is convenient for them to break their own rules time and time again.
“Why Do You Feel So Down” is a fun track although you can interpret the lyrics in a number of ways. Initially I took it as someone so awkward he cannot help anyone with their problems and essentially would rather them not tell him about them as all he can offer is a question such as “Why do you feel so down”.
But I think the song is more self deprecation as he believes people get the wrong impression of him being ‘together’ and ‘cool’ when he really isn’t.
The penultimate track is “Paracetamol”. McKenna was inspired to write this song after reading a story of a transgender girl who committed suicide in 2014. The song is fitting in the theme that the whole album shares which is McKenna as a young teenager trying to make sense of the world and attempting to articulate his anger and disgust at how things are in the adult world.
“Listen To Your Friends” is his final attack at the government and the ridiculousness of some of the laws that have been brought in over the past few years. He is annoyed at how society seems to the think that the problems are “free love and free hugs” and that the bigger issues are often ignored because if it doesn’t effect rich people then why bother?
McKenna is speaking as the voice of an age who are not represented in society. They are old enough to go to war or marry but not old enough to vote and the more I have listened to Declan McKenna I believe he is trying to be that voice.
He has been able to do this through some catchy upbeat pop/rock which sees him writing his own songs and clearly meaning every word he is saying.
A strong debut.