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  • George Wainwright

ALBUM REVIEW: Declan Mckenna - What Happened To The Beach?

Having been touted as the heir to the Indie throne since the release of his debut album in 2017, Declan McKenna has rarely taken two steps in the same direction. Progressing effortlessly from endearing Bedroom Pop to the shimmering space odyssey of his sophomore record ‘Zeros’, McKenna left himself with a door wide open for his third studio release.

Despite the astonishing virality of McKenna’s breakout hit ‘Brazil’ in recent months, ‘What Happened To The Beach?’ is steadfast in its approach to reframe the public image of the now 25 year old.

On the album's single ‘Nothing Works’, he concedes: “It’s not like I’m up and coming anymore”. The gleam of youth has somewhat faded from McKenna’s third incarnation, replaced with stone cold cynicism. This caricature is knowingly adopted tongue-in-cheek; ‘Nothing Works’ eventually explodes into a blistering guitar solo at the climax of the song.

The soundscape of ‘What Happened To The Beach?’ is littered with quirky and goofy excerpts, a testament to McKenna’s incessant determination to flex his songwriting muscles.

Album opener ‘WOBBLE’ establishes the ensuing atmosphere with a plucky lead banjo and seemingly nonsensical lyrics soaked in reverb. There’s a similar instrumentation to the following song ‘Elevator Hum’, bolstered by 8-bit backing vocals and a spritely horn section.

In contrast with the intrinsic joyfulness of the tracklist, ‘What Happened To The Beach?’ has a Jekyll and Hyde-esque undercurrent running throughout the album. There’s an undeniable darkness to the record that’s compounded by not-so-subtle references to narcotics perpetrated by ‘Mulholland’s Dinner and Wine’ and ‘The Phantom Buzz (Kick In)’. The latter title is a career highlight for McKenna, a breakneck foray towards the Post-Punk underworld.

Despite his status as a trailblazer for climate and political activism on his previous albums, Declan McKenna acutely recognises that his own world is under equivalent threat. There’s knowing callbacks to his politically charged 2019 single ‘British Bombs’, but the core antagony of ‘What Happened To The Beach?’ is fuelled by McKenna’s internal struggles.

In contrast with the conceptual cacophony of his previous record, McKenna adjusts the focus of his new material to reflect his personal musings. To the rear of the tracklist, ‘It’s An Act’ is an aching ballad that successfully clarifies the distinction between McKenna’s playful alter-egos and the man himself. In a similar vein, album closer ‘4 More Years’ relays the relentless exhaustion and taxation of artistry.

Capricious in nature, Declan McKenna’s third album revels in a unique blend of whimsy and wisdom, the sound of a musician who’s grown comfortable in his own skin. Despite posing a question in the first instance, ‘What Happened To The Beach?’ serves as a statement of intent.


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