Declan McKenna

What Do You Think About The Car?

(Sony Music)

The Stains EP had a bunch of original songs performed with spirit and conviction and we reviewed it on this site.  We then saw McKenna and his lively band live up at The Garage, confirming that he is the real deal with his own approach to live performance. For the launch of this full album, the demand at Beggars (Banquet Records) in downtown Kingston meant a well-attended signing and a spirited and exciting full-band show later over the road at The Hippodrome Kingston. Not for Declan the Sheeran style cosy loop-soaked love-in – this was a gig of passion on the stage and off, with McKenna in both places at times. The group’s hard work on the road brings a harvest of entertainment but at the core of all this, it’s Declan’s songs that are the driver.

Humongous starts with a gentle acoustic intro with the words expressing rebellion, the full band dropping in with a fairly laid-back group sound. The delivery is close to a less-annoying and less-mannered Jarvis Cocker as retro keyboard wash coats the background. The lyrics are in the fold-out booklet but far too small to be easily readable, however the appealing ringing guitar start to Brazil reminds me that I have not a clue what this lovely song is about. But like Whiter Shade Of Pale it matters not. Declan sings it straight, squeezing the lyric out over the gorgeous melody. At the launch meet he said he would talk to us at some point, so let’s hope this happens. The electronica touches sound organic rather than gimmicky. A guitar break uses a touch of reverse delay. McKenna switches from acoustic electric with blinding speed both on record AND in performance. Bouncy, catchy and pointed, this cut has to be the sound of Summer 2017.

The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home has Declan pondering actions and their consequences. Always the sweet melodies endure through each track like words through a stick of seaside rock. Parental failure seems to be the theme here. The song aches to segue into The Who’s Pictures Of Lily and it’s good enough to do that. The quasi-mandolin trilling adds to the potency. Mind has an atypical winsome vocal, clear as could be. This is a lament that toughens up, another memorable melody featured.  ‘Why d’you keep changing your mind ?’ McKenna asks. I – of course – have little hope of understanding this demographic’s outlook on romance. Taking off shirts features. Does that help ?  Tempo tricks just add to the quirkiness of the cut.

Make Me Your Queen takes an airier pulse, keys to the fore and a floating melody used. An emphatic beat comes and goes. This rhythm section are really on the money and make the live shows happen. Isombard is already a live favourite, eerie keyboard arpeggio’s upfront and then a pacey tempo crashes in. The singing here is playful, conspiratorial. Such a catchy refrain, already relished by McKenna’s tribe. If Kate Bush ever rocked things up, it might have this flavour. A bag of Haribos to the drummer for exemplary playing on this one! I am Everyone Else seems to concern behaviour of associates that doesn’t add up to the narrator. Well, maybe. But an irresistible tune rules, yet again. And one of his better choruses.

Bethlehem is already a concert gem. Sung with tenderness and neat backing vocals, the song has a soft bounce then hardens, with rich guitar embellishment. The tune has distant echoes of Ray Davies..but how would that be possible?  Could be a B-side to, say, Victoria.  Bear in mind Declan’s about eighteen…it’s curious to say the least..

Why Do You Feel So Down? employs a baroque opening and backbeat. It could from the lyrics be about an unwillingness to adopt the role of steady friend. Now why I couldn’t tell you. Every now and again Declan sounds insecure, unsure of himself and afraid of doing things. Which could hit anybody, any age. On to Paracetamol, which of course is the answer to the question ‘ Why are there no aspirins in the jungle ?’ Corny churchy organ belies the song content which is almost teenage Dylan in words and delivery but not in vocal tone. Beautiful stuff, this. One of his buzz phrases ‘Emotionally Challenged; occurs in this number, btw. Listen To Your Friends has a mournful cello -they usually are! – and ends the record on an almost upbeat note with its McCartneyesque-like tune, political rap and tinge of world-weariness. The guitar weaves on this record sound even better on stage as the PRS entangles Declan’s Telecaster in sparky moments of bluster.

He sold a lot of records at this launch and deservedly so. If I was 17 it is THIS and not the likes of Years & Years that would make me want to sing and play and create. What a welcome figure to the scene, they now have something akin to their own Townshend…as a young wordsmith, I have no idea what he will make of this piece, but this is a disc you should hear.

Pete Sargeant  

(Thanks to Declan, for signing the records and for the wild show. Also thanks to Simon at Chuff Media and Glenn)



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Declan McKenna’s debut studio album ‘What Do You Think About The Car?’ is out now on Sony Music.

For more information visit his official website here: http://www.declanmckenna.net/

Declan McKenna