The indie scene in Britain tends to follow a fairly strict pattern, churning out four-piece guitar rock bands with the occasional female front. In the solo singer-songwriter leagues, it’s mostly women with stars in their eyes and a certain lilt to their voice – we’ve all seen that Vine, “welcome to my kitchen…”. But, every now and then, there’s a wonderful anomaly that redefines every rule set in place. 18-year-old Declan McKenna is one of the most recent artists to break out on to what is essentially a “circuit”, having already supported the likes of Blossoms and played nearly every festival known to man in the United Kingdom. However, the most magical thing about him is that, for the most part, McKenna forgoes singing about the usual trials and tribulations of love and heartbreak in order to touch on topics far more important and, dare it be said, interesting.
McKenna’s debut album What Do You Think About The Car? has been in the works for some time, so a lot of it has already been heard by his adoring fans. For example, ‘Brazil’, which was released as a single in 2015 and condemns FIFA and all others involved in bringing the World Cup to Brazil in 2016 while the country was (and still is) stricken with poverty, was met with total acclaim from both critics and fans. It’s the album’s first track ‘Humongous’ that really grabs the listener’s attention though, a solid offering that also had a previous release but fits in perfectly as starting ground with a chorus to match its title. It’s the perfect opportunity for McKenna to plead his case to the masses, as statistically it’s going to be the opening song that those giving him a chance will listen to first.
‘Paracetamol’ delves a little deeper, pulling at the heartstrings, as it is inspired by the suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn. McKenna has been nothing less than vocal in his advocacy of LGBT rights, and speaking for himself has told the press he doesn’t, “like to put a label on it”. It’s a touching gesture that he would use his platform so easily to speak on topics that a lot of musicians don’t dare to write about for fear of public backlash. McKenna is a deviation from the norm, and it’s quite frankly a refreshing experience in comparison to the rest of the scene.
The only issue, if anything, is that this record could be considered a little too short. It has eleven tracks, which is only a bit below average, but it seems far shorter when you take in to account that at least four or five of these have already been released as singles. They’re singles for a reason; these tracks are completely brilliant, shimmering tunes that are more than capable of drawing people in, and are the very grounds for McKenna being pegged as a “buzz” artist. Beyond that, there are the album cuts. Often considered the drab offerings on any record, McKenna does these justice still by presenting them beautifully. This is particularly the case for the anthemic ‘The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home’, which is driven by a passion that is uniquely McKenna’s own.
What Do You Think About The Car?’s swan song is ‘Listen To Your Friends’, another track that dives right in to the social issues that McKenna’s teenage fans are likely to be concerned about. NHS funding and high inflation in train fares sound like a fantasy world as he sings, but the sad truth is that he’s making people aware, if they weren’t already, of the nitty-gritty truth. It’s the grandest of finales to an absolutely incredible debut, from an artist so in touch with his audience that there’s no doubting he’ll succeed.