"McKenna distorts his political observations, blending home truths with space-age fantasy on an album that embraces the absurdity of the present day."
Words: Jake Abatan
After a lengthy delay from its original May release, indie talent Declan McKenna’s eagerly-awaited second studio album, ‘Zeros’, has finally landed.
Politically-charged songwriting has long been McKenna’s signature – last year’s single, ‘British Bombs’, criticised Britain’s role in the global arms trade. But this time McKenna distorts his political observations, blending home truths with space-age fantasy on an album that embraces the absurdity of the present day.
’Zeros’ is an album about the end of the world, not with an asteroid bringing about mass extinction, but our own self-inflicted wounds. Opening anthem, ‘You Better Believe!!!’, introduces us to this theme instantly. “You’re gonna get yourself killed, before you can run,” belts McKenna with urgency. The song captures a lack of faith in the world’s future where the only thing worth believing is that: “We’re gonna get ourselves killed!"
Space is a recurring theme of ‘Zeros’, offering sanctuary but also forecasting our fate. This is captured on the ambient track, ‘Sagittarius A*’, the title of which refers to the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. The song deals with overpopulation and its effects on Mother Nature, but also captures a sense of alienation amongst the earth’s ever-increasing crowd. Sparse and contemplative in the first half, it transforms with building drums and a triumphant guitar riff. Space offers more of a home for McKenna and his sky-high ambitions than earth – as he declares on ‘Sagittarius A*’s chorus: “I’m Sagittarius, I’m a star."
Alienation is also a theme on ‘Be An Astronaut’. The glam rock stomper concerns the recurring character, Daniel, who is bullied by the boys at his school. Once again, space offers escapism as he was “born to be an astronaut”.
Elsewhere, ’The Key to Life on Earth’ - with a hook strongly evoking David Bowie’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’ to boot - sees school bullies become the ones who run the country; pointing towards an inescapable cycle for all except those who "Join forces like carousels and their horses forever spinning round and never coming down” like flying saucers.
From tongue-in-cheek lyrics reminiscent of The Kinks to the more paired-back folk of ‘Emily’ delivered in the same vein as Bob Dylan, McKenna is unafraid to show off his influences and does justice to them all. While the ideas within ‘Zeros’ are ambitiously grand, they leave space for the listener to dream up their own conclusion.
On his ’What Do You Think About the Car?’ follow-up, McKenna treats fans to a full-on theatrical experience.
For Fans Of: David Bowie, Mac DeMarco
Release date: 04.09.20