Declan McKenna’s second album, Zeros, is both retro and futuristic, heavily influenced by seventies icons but delivered with an intergalactic punch.
“What do you think about the rocket I built?” McKenna sings on the opener ‘You Better Believe!!!’, a nod to his debut album, What do you think about the car? The track is a futuristic pop number about an asteroid heading for Earth, which sets the theme for the album.
McKenna’s first record tackled weighty topics such as suicide, and political scandals, forging him as a notorious voice for a new generation. ‘You Better Believe!!!’ follows ‘Bethlehem’ from his debut in how its criticises region’s grip on world order. The lyrics tell how religious beliefs, (or anything for that matter), will not save us from Earth’s inevitable end, which in this Zeros universe is a great big asteroid coming down. The track mirrors its subject topic in its chaotic energy, before bridging to a calmer outro, grounded by the lyrics, “I’m off out to buy a bag of Quavers and Nike Trainers, comfort you can feel.”
Bowie is a clear influence on the album and McKenna paints similar dystopian narratives to the Major Tom series, while he twists and toys with the concept of genre much like the late icon. ‘Emily’ turns down the distorted synths and replaces them with plucky acoustics while ‘Rapture’ experiments with warped lyrics and heavy percussion.
Again, experimenting with genre, ‘Be an astronaut’, an album highlight, continues the space motif. It is introduced as a sad-ballad, carried by soft vocals over piano keys. By the chorus though, McKenna belts “you were born to be an astronaut and you’ll do that or die trying,” as the song slips into glitzy guitar riffs reminiscent of his older work.
‘Eventually Darling’, the album closer is about accepting change, both universally and personally. The track sees high-pitched, alien-like vocals, seep into the chorus as McKenna sings, “Everyone leaves eventually, darling, don’t be afraid”.
This final message of hope is a pertinent one. The futuristic theme of Zeros and its galactic chaos does not seem too far removed from the year we find ourselves living in. In fact an asteroid collision would not feel overly disastrous in this dystopian time we call 2020.