Album Review: What Happened to The Beach? // Declan McKenna

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Banishing bedroom pop of his debut, What Do You Think About The Car?, and the 80s synth pop of its follow up Zeros, Declan McKenna’s third effort (What Happened to the Beach?) takes the listener on an altogether different journey than its predecessors, one that is much more stripped down, laid bare and groove-tinged.

From 2015 onwards, McKenna amassed quite the following for his politically tinged tracks but, rather than risk being relegated to a political spokesperson for Gen Z, McKenna has made an album that (according to a recent interview with BBC) reflects “whatever I was drawn to at that given time”.

The record opens with ‘WOBBLE’, where McKenna acknowledges how life is ever changing against a woozy acoustic beat as he remarks: “I used to cry at home all night / now I might in the sunshine”. It prompts the listener to think about the world and themselves and embrace the changes, as some of them may prove to be positive. Conjuring images of the tide pulling in, it also encourages a relaxed feeling to take over the listener – there’s no ulterior motive or point to prove with this track, it just sets the record straight (quite literally) on what to expect across the album.

Next up comes the soothing ‘Elevator Hum’, which affirms the theme of the album— freedom. The transition from the previous track to its follow up is glorious, a heady mix of twinkling synths and drawn out vocals. It almost feels like McKenna is giving himself and his listener permission to let go of everything for a moment and truly enjoy whatever it is life has to offer. Though it does have a different feel to his previous albums, ‘I Write The News’ is a nod to his standing on Gen Z’s soapbox days, with casual references to high crime, Southern rail prices and London’s absurdly high rent. The clunky outro doesn’t quite fit with the pomp of the following single ‘Sympathy’, which drips with ‘60s pop sound and encourages the listener to “make peace and discover” —  almost a musical exhale, which adds to the calm feel across the record.

Latest single ‘Mulholland’s Dinner and Wine’ radiates playful confidence, whilst ‘Breath of Life’ leans heavily into the woozy, uneasy feel that permeates the record. It almost feels like a forgotten MGMT track has slipped in there somewhere but, after a few listens, it works like a charm. McKenna embraces his changing self, and sound, in ‘Nothing Works’ — as he addresses how shaking off the reputation carved out for him by record execs is as frustrating as it is freeing.

The ‘festival-ready anthem’ comes towards the tail end of the album with ‘The Phantom Buzz (Kick In)’, as McKenna chases a musical (and perhaps literal) high amongst soaring electric guitar hooks, serving as a contrast to the extremely grounded tracks prior. There’s a sense of pondering throughout ‘Honest Test’ and ‘Mezzanine’, the latter a hypnotic stand out track which is rich in instrumentals and syrupy vocals. ‘It’s An Act’ is soft and striking, a gorgeously simple and laid back offering — the kind of song that stops the listener in their tracks to just take a moment and enjoy the sound.

‘4 More Years’ is an extremely simple, if slightly lacklustre, conclusion to the album. However it proves extremely fitting as — unlike with his two previous albums — there isn’t a need to please but rather a desire to produce something which represents the man he is today rather than the boy he was when he rose to fame.

Words by Jen Rose

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