Declan McKenna’s Zeros, A Glam-Indie-Rock Musical Experience

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In many ways, Zeros feels like a coming-of-age album. It’s a true advancement of McKenna’s sound, polished and produced to near-perfection.

Declan McKenna’s 2017 debut was a charmer; from start to finish, one can’t help but adore What Do You Think About The Car?’s intimate acoustics and home-grown feel. However, it seems that McKenna’s latest album is reaching new heights – with its masterful production and vast soundscapes, Zeros sees the boy-next-door skyrocket into the realms of glorious, space-y glam-rock. Fusing a bouncy, 70s vibe with a contemporary indie-rock flair, this ambitious album should not be missed out on.

Declan McKenna Zeros album artwork / The Guardian

As soon as Zeros bursts into action, it’s clear that it’s going to be pretty special. Opening track ‘You Better Believe!!!’ is bright and breezy, with jangling percussions and a timeless, easy feel. The song somehow feels like a bundle of exclamation marks and it’s the perfect introductory track, McKenna’s floaty call of “Oh, you better believe!” dragging you, hook-line-and-sinker, into the glittering, floaty world of Zeros.

Amidst all of the shimmering glam-rock, we must acknowledge that there is one very obvious inspiration for this album: David Bowie. Be it the quirky lyricisms – “Like gum stuck to your heels”, or the brilliant “I’m off to buy a pack of Quavers” – or the bouncy, playful piano, there is a definite Bowie sparkle within every song. Even McKenna’s vocals hark back to the musical legend. ‘You Better Believe!!!’, ‘Be An Astronaut’, and ‘Twice Your Size’ in particular have a true Bowie feel, with their echoing, endless soundscapes and scattered, high-pitched backing vocals.

To simply write this album off as a Bowie tribute would be a disservice, however. The album is undoubtedly inspired by the 70s and 80s, but this inspiration by no means dulls the album’s shine, instead amplifying its impact – McKenna owns each element, harnessing the nostalgia and modifying it to fit his own needs. ‘Beautiful Faces’, for example, harnesses that bouncy, trance-y energy of the 80s, but enhances its impact with a modern, indie-rock clash of instruments. While ‘Daniel, You’re Still A Child’ feels like a modern Peter Gabriel track, with a deliciously fun bassline and intoxicating rhythm.

Declan McKenna – The Key to Life on Earth (Official Video)

‘The Key to Life on Earth’ also revels in contemporary styles, combining the twangy charm of glam-rock and the heavier edge of indie-rock. The single immediately feels like a classic indie staple, with its odd chorus structure and anthemic calls of “We’ve been! Held back for after-school meetings”, whilst still boasting a melodic, glittering soundscape. ‘Rapture’ is also a real show-stopper, for this very reason; it’s an absolutely timeless, art-rock bop, with a chorus that is gorgeously catchy and criminally well produced. McKenna’s vocals in the chorus feel reminiscent of Kate Bush, rising and falling along with the stupidly fun song structure. Sharp, politically frustrated lyrics and a contrastingly ethereal, floaty sound, the pair come to a head at the end in a chaotic crescendo of frazzled, tormented vocals.

In many ways, Zeros feels like a coming-of-age album. It’s a true advancement of McKenna’s sound, polished and produced to near-perfection. Though the album feels almost conceptual, in its repeated theme of layered, space-y soundscapes, there’s no denying that this is a brilliant glam-indie-rock musical experience. So, if you’re wondering – is this album worth a listen? You better believe it!

Header image: William Arkle Marsden for NME