The Student Playlist

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REVIEW: Declan McKenna – ‘What Do You Think About The Car?’ (Columbia)

  • 8/10
    - 8/10


Stuffed with already familiar hits and sparkling new tracks, Declan McKenna’s keenly awaited debut ‘What Do You Think About The Car?’ feels like an instant modern classic.

Winning the Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition in 2015 was definitely a milestone for Declan McKenna, as well as an alert for the public to watch the space around this young and developing artist. From the very beginning, McKenna was able to write songs which didn’t shy away from political topics and commentary about different issues, which exist in our society today. His mature approach to lyricism, guitar-driven melodies embedded in indie and modern pop productions, have resonated with many and led McKenna to become one of the most closely watched emerging artists of the past few years.

With his debut album What Do You Think About The Car?, there can’t be any doubt, the spotlight, which has been shining on McKenna for some time now, will only grow stronger and brighter. He has been releasing music since as early as 2014, when his breakout single, ‘Brazil’, introduced him as a clever and skilful songwriter. The song, although vigorous and lively, criticizes an intricate topic of the FIFA World Cup corruption, and in a slightly exaggerated way describes a character who “lives down a river somewhere, with six cars and a grizzly bear”.

On What Do You Think About The Car? McKenna expands the spectrum of topics which he finds impactful and important, especially in the context of the younger generations of people. On the opening track, ‘Humongous’, we can find McKenna referencing the dissonance and eternal lack of understanding between those of power and influence, and those who don’t want to be tagged “with your hate and with your envy”. Next to insightful lyrics, ‘Humongous’ possesses an irresistible chorus, which manages to build up the tension and constitutes for one of the most absorbing moments on the album.

The following track, ‘The Kids Don’t Wanna Go Home’ is an ode to youth rebellion and possibly the least pretentious invite to a dialogue about the difficulties which confused, young people need to face. The lack of appropriate response from the world around them is concluded by McKenna with a bitter line: “Haven’t you got any shame, have you got no morals…”.

‘Make Me Your Queen’ is one of few moments in which McKenna presents himself in a slightly different light, speaking about unrequited love – one of the most heart-breaking experiences that anyone can go through. Throughout the album, McKenna’s raspy voice can be frequently found on the verge of cracking, which is especially entrancing during those few confessional lines: “I know that I know nothing to you dear […] and I know I don’t mean shit, I know you’ve made that clear”.

There are so many different subjects touched by the young artist on his debut album, making each of the songs a separate, yet equally engaging experience. ‘Isombard’ invites the listener to reflect on the message promoted by right-wing media, while ‘Paracetamol’ is a song inspired by the story of a transgender teenager who committed suicide. On ‘Bethlehem’ McKenna points out to the problem of hypocrisy in religion, and closes the first verse with a short, but provocative line: “But you sin as you wish”.

Although, the lyrical content of the album is definitely something that the listeners will, rightfully, pay a lot of attention to, James Ford’s production input and McKenna’s guitar work should find their own place next to it. What Do You Think About The Car? finds its roots in the acclaimed sounds of indie rock music, however it is embellished with glimmering synths and multi-layered choruses, which boost McKenna’s authenticity and an image of a young non-conformist. Somehow, this 18 year old managed to record an album which never bores and often causes the listener to stop for a minute and reflect on things which they might have seldom thought about before, but also delivers more than a handful of catchy tunes written with both subtlety and confidence. (8/10) (Alicja Rutkowska)

Listen to What Do You Think About The Car? here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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