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Declan McKenna steps out of his comfort zone and into the sand

On+Feb.+9%2C+English+singer-songwriter+Declan+McKenna+released+his+third+studio+album+What+Happened+to+the+Beach%3F+
Courtesy of Tomplicated Records
On Feb. 9, English singer-songwriter Declan McKenna released his third studio album “What Happened to the Beach?”

3.5 out of 5.0 stars
Riding the high of his ABBA cover “Slipping Through My Fingers,” which amassed over 5 million streams on Spotify, Declan McKenna makes a comeback with his new album “What Happened to the Beach?” released Feb. 9. The cover is still only a fraction of streams compared to his most popular song, “Brazil,” which has over 400 million streams. The British singer/songwriter has accumulated 6.8 million listeners on Spotify since 2014, releasing two albums and 22 singles in the meantime. 

His consistent indie-rock sound caused fans to be excited for his third studio album, with four singles released beforehand. The 12-song-long record “What Happened to the Beach?” was highly anticipated with his last full album, “Zeros,” being released in 2020. 

The fourth song on the album and the first single released, “Sympathy,” reached over 3 million streams. Although using simpler lyrics than his previously released songs, it doesn’t detract from his overall message of being straightforward and candid about his feelings. In an interview with When The Horn Blows, McKenna said he didn’t want to hide behind “metaphors or complexities” and instead wanted to be honest with his feelings, which is just what the song asks for. The lyrics, “If you don’t speak your thoughts aloud / You just feel them forever” speak to his message of frankness. The song pairs well with light-hearted, beachy and trumpet-filled music for easy listening. 

McKenna isn’t one to shy away from political lyrics, from “Brazil” to “British Bombs,” to now “I Write the News.” In the new song, McKenna comments on media consumption and London’s economic and political landscape. With lyrics like, “Yes, London prices might seem stiff /But they’ll roll you a spliff, so you can’t refuse” and, “You’ve made way for some common abuse / Free gel pens, well, at whose expense? / All the children need now is their ones and twos.” It’s impossible to ignore his familiar criticism of his country. With a deceptively folky opening and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, it’s easy to bop along to but hard to ignore the reality behind the song. 

Weaker opening and closing songs — “WOBBLE” and “4 More Years,” respectively —  are either seamlessly, pointlessly mumbled or vaguely allusive. The slow, stranger start and end to the album, although exhibiting McKenna’s new sound, doesn’t add anything to the album other than an inquisitive feeling. 

The middle of the album is where the artist really stands out. The eighth song on the album and crowning jewel, “The Phantom Buzz (Kick In),” was an immediate replay. As one of the more familiar-sounding songs on the album, it gave a well-deserved break from the rest of the more experimentalist songs it shares an album with. With a heavy drum and electric guitar instrumental, it’s sure to be on his tour setlist, becoming one of his most popular songs.  

Equally notable songsMulholland’s Dinner and Wine” and “Breath of Light” pair great one after another, with both songs having “groovier” undertones. The two songs lyrically share the word “cosmic,” giving these songs interesting parallels. Each song has its own perspective on self-doubt and societal pressures, “Mulholland’s Dinner and Wine” coming off more arrogant rather than lost, as heard in “Breath of Light.”

Lyrics like, “Would you catch me in the centre of your cosmic sin?” and, “I’m a cheesecake junkie in a constant griefin “Breath of Light,” both alluding to harsh, overwhelming feelings while also acknowledging the use of self-indulgent behaviors as a way of coping. While “Mulholland’s Dinner and Wine” is more pretentious with lyrics like, “I got a boring apartment and all of the drugs / I’m fucking dangerous, I get what I want” admitting his bleak reality and yet still successfully living in it. 

Songs nine through 11 blur together towards the end, the tracks before them taking the spotlight. Although none of them are skippable, none of them are worth looking up individually. It’s a mellow and maybe needed end to an otherwise eclectic album. After more experimental songs, more casually listening is what the album needs, even if consequently having a lack of more upbeat, exciting songs, which McKenna excels in. 

Since his last album, “Zeros,” McKenna has been stepping out of his shell and experimenting with different music genres, and this album is no different. Although all done well, it is an acquired taste for some who are used to his indie-pop feel from earlier in his career. His pre-released singles were much more palatable than the rest of the album, and even those take some time to adjust to. 

While this might not be the McKenna fans are used to, it’s the new and improved version that all fans will come to love. With songs you can trace back from “What Do You Think About the Car?” and “Zeros,” for a nostalgic feel, most have a new sound of their own, indicative of another successful album by McKenna.

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Reese Schenkel, Chief Copy editor
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