Declan McKenna - Zeros Review

Label: Columbia Records

Release Date: 4th September 2020

Rating: 8/10

“An intergalactic journey through space and time, Zeros brings the party, occupying the glittery glam-rock space world Declan McKenna has created.”

Zeros artwork. Credit: Chuffmedia.

In indie circles, Zeros is perhaps one of the most hotly anticipated albums of the year. Three years have elapsed since What Do You Think About The Car?, and this carefully navigated sophomore album signals a move into a more sophisticated, Bowie-influenced era of glam-rock.

With the sonics of debut What Do You Think About The Car? so heavily cherished by fans, Zeros was always going to be a difficult release. But with seamless, polished production, Zeros has lived up to every expectation. Here, the social commentary isn’t always as heightened as in the first album, but it’s there, with a new, whimsical twist. McKenna combines the thought-provoking, political commentary he is infamous for with a freshly revived, celebratory spirit that embraces the recklessness and transience of youth.

The album opens with ‘You Better Believe!!!’. The guitar work almost feels like a reference to the indie sweethearts of the early to mid-2000s. “We’re gonna get ourselves killed! What do you think about the rocket I’ve built?” feels like a combination of a call to arms and a call to party. This existentialist, though fun, sentiment seems a perfectly fitting epitome of Zeros.

McKenna adopts an almost parental, advisory tone on ‘Be An Astronaut’: “If you know what’s good for you, behave yourself this time for me.” This track is majestic, elevating McKenna into new territories: the guitar solo sees him occupy the rocket he’s built in ‘You Better Believe!!!' as he reaches new sonic heights. The twinkling piano work feels distinctly McCartney, Sgt Pepper era from the get-go, and this is further echoed in the effortless groove of the bass line on ‘Daniel, You’re Still A Child’, which is, presumably, the same Daniel referenced at the beginning of ‘Be An Astronaut’. Subtle, but clever.

Declan McKenna. Credit: Chuffmedia.

From ‘Beautiful Faces’ to ‘The Key To Life On Earth’, the singles on this album are all incredibly strong, but we knew that already. Since they’re all concentrated in the first half of the record, this makes it slightly stronger than the second. Despite this, elements of this project are deeply experimental. It’s easy to hear Nashville’s influence on ‘Emily’ and ‘Twice Your Size’, with the latter boasting an old Americana, thick guitar sound. ‘Rapture’ has an interestingly electronic, almost Daft Punk edge in places. It feels almost unfamiliar in the context of McKenna’s style, but it works.

Closing track ‘Eventually, Darling’ which is almost a lamenting anti-love song, brings this celestial LP back down to earth. Quite the contrast to the tone the album entered on, it laments with heart-wrenching lyrics “It was nice to meet you / but love is just a fleeting friend” and “Everyone leaves eventually darling, don’t be afraid.” These sentiments remind us that McKenna is human; he doesn’t live to write outlandish songs about climate change and footballers hoarding wealth. In many ways, the soft honesty of ‘Eventually, Darling’ is the beating heart of this record.

On Zeros, McKenna has finessed detail and mastered his sound, but he’s also relaxed. Distancing himself from the “voice of a generation” label, McKenna occupies more time in the sweeping highs of this record: the more reflective, sombre tracks, ‘Emily’ and ‘The Key To Life On Earth’ are outnumbered by glitzy, fast-paced tracks epitomised by ‘You Better Believe!!!’ and ‘Twice Your Size.’ An intergalactic journey through space and time, Zeros brings the party, occupying the glittery glam-rock space world Declan McKenna has created. All aboard the rocket ship to the planet Zeros.

Zeros is out now.

Words by Eleanor Noyce.

2nd September 2020.

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