Album Review: Declan McKenna – Zeros

Amelia Thorpe shares her thoughts on Declan McKenna's sophomore record, Zeros.

Amelia Neri
6th September 2020

Indie-pop icon, Declan McKenna, has exceeded all my expectations with his sophomore album, Zeros, which was released on the 4th September 2020 via Columbia Records. The highly anticipated album is so effortlessly jam-packed full of energy, enigma, and raw talent, that it has me awe-struck.

Declan McKenna has quite clearly poured his heart and soul into the creation of Zeros, both perfecting and transforming his art since the released of his debut album, What Do You Think About The Car? back in 2017. Building upon his already acclaimed first album, Zeros is a bolder and more adventurous addition to his discography, exploring obscure concepts, such as: the digital age, consumerism, global warming, and the imminent apocalypse – yes, it gets THAT dark. The soloist sails through new territory so effortlessly, and with the zest of a veteran, that it is easy to forget that this is an effort from a 21-year-old on his second album. An album which will undoubtedly dominate the indie scene for the foreseeable future, as well as make it to my personal top ten albums of all time.

The soloist sails through new territory so effortlessly, and with the zest of a veteran, that it is easy to forget that this is an effort from a 21-year-old on his second album.

Recorded in Nashville last year (with Jay Joyce and mixed by Spike Stent), it is as if the British singer-songwriter conjured up the cosmos and disguised it as an album, and despite all the complications the COVID-19 outbreak posed to the young star, Zeros remains a force to be reckoned with.
The album is introduced by the energetic ‘You Better Believe!!!’ which, full of powerful vocals, a catchy hook, and clear 1970s pop-rock influences, flawlessly sets tone for the following nine songs on the album. The lyrical content alludes to concepts explored throughout the album, such as our impending doom, with the line “The asteroids here”, linking to both ‘Rapture’ and ‘Sagittarius A*’. His use of grandiose Biblical allusions such as “Heaven’s gate” juxtaposed to the mundane “Nike trainers”, stay the right side of pastiche and foreshadow the upcoming themes, making it an overall powerful introduction to the album.

Following this up is ‘Be an Astronaut’, which starts off with dramatic James Bond-esque piano and Bowie inspired vocals, before erupting into a powerful chorus and a guitar solo reminiscent of Queen and 1970s/80s pop-rock.  The track feeds nicely into ‘The Key To Life On Earth’, whose lyrical content deals with duality, humanity, and one’s place in the dynamic scape of human experience. Mirrored by McKenna’s use of distortion in his psychedelic guitar riffs creates discordance and an unavoidable eerie and melancholy aura, setting it apart from the other tracks and making it one of my favourites on the album. The following two tracks ‘Beautiful Faces’ and ‘Daniel You’re Still a Child’ were among the four singles released prior to the album. Both energetic indie-pop offerings, packed with catchy riffs and melodies, will most definitely, continue to get heads bouncing and be blasted on car radios at full volume. And wedged slap-bang in the middle of the set is ‘Emily’, a slower, simpler, and stripped down offering. With elements of folk mingled with McKenna’s signature synths and vocals, ‘Emily’ is the perfect example of traditional meets contemporary.

The following two tracks stand out as my favourites on the album. ‘Twice Your Size’, is astronomical, like something snatched from space movie soundtrack, the frenetic vocals mismatched with the Spaghetti-Western style guitar in the bridge, are phenomenal. But it gets better; way better, the outro takes you off guard as heavy instrumentals explode into being alongside McKenna’s chant-like vocals, before abruptly ending, really hammering home the fact that “it means half as much when you say it twice”.  ‘Rapture’, owns the catchiest hook of the album (despite the politically enraged lyrics) and breaks down into absolute chaos towards the end. Heavy effects on the voice add to the insanity of McKenna’s feral screams, before the song ends on a scream with delay which is super impactful.

The soloist revisits his roots with ‘Sagittarius A*’ with an offering that is stylistically similar to that of his debut album, this time with a darker undertone as he touches on global warming with “You think your money’s going to stop you getting wet” and allusions to Noah’s ark.
To finalise this masterpiece is ‘Eventually, Darling’, which, with its melodic guitar riffs and interesting vocals, is a strong ending to an even stronger album.

Declan McKenna has really outdone himself with this one, from the distortion on his guitars to his thought-provoking themes, the young star takes you on a once in a lifetime trip around the Galaxy upon every listen. Despite the three year long wait for a second album, two things are for certain: good things come to those who wait, and I won’t be getting over Zeros any time soon, if not ever.


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