Album Review: Declan McKenna – What Do You Think About the Car?

By on Tuesday, 18th July 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Declan McKenna What Do You Think About the Car album coverSome people are just destined for greatness. Far less common in life are those who can predict such greatness in themselves. There might be some disagreement with this, but a recording of Declan McKenna when small seems to have been remarkably prescient. In response to his oldest sister Rosanna’s question, “Dec, what do you think about the car? Do you like it?” The 4-year old Declan responded, “I like it, it’s really good and now I’m going to sing my new album now.” Now the formerly nonsensical name of his debut album for Columbia makes sense!

In case you’re late to the Declan McKenna party, you can start by reading this Bands to Watch I wrote ahead of his appearances at SXSW 2016. Out of the gate in 2015 with ‘Brazil’, which handily skewered the hypocrisy of world football-governing body FIFA, McKenna showed himself to be more than just a wild card. He had the ambition of becoming a pop star with – gasp! horror! – a social conscience. This new record from the Hertfortshire teen is a convenient collection of his live favourites and past singles, including ‘Brazil’, ‘Bethlehem’ and ‘Paracetatmol’, all of which appeared on ‘Liar’ EP back in the spring. Unlike his mostly one-dimensional contemporaries, McKenna isn’t easily pigeonholed with one style or sound. While ‘What Do You Think…’ is certainly a 21st century album, produced by Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford (The Last Shadow Puppets, Depeche Mode) and taking advantage of current technology, listening to it is like no other album out there today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7f6KQbuNdW8

The LP begins with single ‘Humongous’: its instrumental solo and McKenna’s double-tracked vocals in the chorus give the feeling not of 2017 of a song of a past generation. Or at least the last one. The leisurely tempo of ‘Humongous’ eventually gives way to a frenetic ending, but not before McKenna thumbs his nose towards duplicitous politicians: “Do you care? / I’m big, humongous, enormous and small / and it’s not fair that I am nothing and nobody’s there”. The wonky waltzy rhythm of ‘Mind’ and its theme of teenage angst of young love not going quite right will remind you of early Mystery Jets. Maybe this shouldn’t come as such a surprise, since Ford also produced 2006’s ‘Making Dens’? McKenna’s voice on ‘I Am Everyone Else’ also has a Blaine Harrison quality, while the melody chirps along with both guitars and synths. There’s more synth action on the feel good ‘Why Do You Feel So Down’, on which one-man band McKenna sounds like a more electric Vampire Weekend.

However, what will more likely be more important to this 18-year old’s legacy is his willingness to go beyond the usual and often too simplistic teenage song topics. It’s been during the Millennial generation that the concerns of the LGBT community have been more widely aired. However, young McKenna took on the tragic suicide of Ohioan transgender teen Leelah Alcorn in ‘Paracetamol’ because “People need to start getting it.” Guitar-driven foot stomper ‘Bethlehem’ tackles the holier-than-thou stance of those willing to kill and die in the name of religion (“but you sin as you wish”). The not quite ballad, not quite pop song ‘Listen to Your Friends’ closing the album alludes to the importance of speaking up and out against injustices, instead of following everyone else’s apathy. This statement seems even more important following the young people’s vote in the June 2016 General Election; check out McKenna’s wail during the song in live performance below.

‘What Do You Think About the Car?’ is a debut that never has a dull moment, and it’s got as much variety as an assorted pack of jelly beans. A pleasant listen throughout, along with plenty of great lyrics to sink your teeth into and make you think, Declan McKenna should be proud of writing a debut record that has a good shot of standing the test of time.

8.5/10

‘What Do You Think About the Car?’, the long-anticipated debut album from pop wunderkind Declan McKenna, will be released this Friday, the 21st of July, on Columbia Records. Have a stroll through our archive of posts on the young McKenna here on TGTF through this link.

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