Label: Sony Music Entertainment
Release Date: 6th August 2020
“McKenna delivers another strong single in ‘Be an Astronaut’, although it is held back by its reliance on vintage sounds and allusions to classic artists".
Be an Astronaut is set to be the second track on Declan McKenna’s sophomore album, Zeros, signalling the ambitious expectations resting on this track. It is McKenna’s attempt at a modern British anthem, empowering people to live their dreams and to be the astronaut they were born to be.
Unlike the electric energy of the three previous singles for Zeros, McKenna immediately sets Be an Astronaut apart with a sombre, spacey opening piano riff. This provides the backdrop for the chorus to erupt into explosive drums, epic backing vocals, and screaming electric guitars. The mix is loud but never jarring, thanks to the crisp, ultra-clean production, which results in a smooth indie-pop instrumental for McKenna’s ambitious lyrics to soar over. The contrast between the moody opening and the raucous chorus perfectly captures the feeling of rising above the mire of ordinary life. However, one thing the track cannot rise above is the weight of its own influences.
The retro-aesthetic of the song (reflected in the music video by McKenna’s vintage suit and his McCartney impersonation) is accompanied by crystal clear allusions to classic British artists like David Bowie and The Beatles (as acknowledged by McKenna himself). However, the heavy-handed nature of these allusions creates a murky sense of familiarity: of having heard the song before, even on a first listen. McKenna’s own originality is choked out by his over-reliance on his influences: from the opening piano chords, reminiscent of ELO’s Ticket to the Moon, to the McCartney-esque vocal delivery and the belting chorus, clearly inspired by Bowie’s singles on Hunky Dory. McKenna’s signature cryptic lyrics only compound the problem, as they fail to carve out a clear, unique perspective. Instead, the lyrics feel like a middle ground between two well-worn British anthem topics: space (Like Life on Mars? and Rocket Man) and life and death (Live Forever and Live and Let Die, complete with a possible allusion in the lyrics “What a way to live and die”). The result is an enjoyable but forgettable song, that fails to reach the cosmic heights of an epic indie anthem.
Words by Troy Hunneyball.
7th August 2020.