In a 70s inspired, Bowie-esque cosmic adventure, Declan McKenna brings a new meaning to the phrase back to the future with his second studio album, Zeros. Released on the 4th of this month, the 10-song collection colours the artist’s musical palette with shades of retro-futurism and indie-pop. From grungy rock to upbeat ballads, Declan explores a new sound - and space - to match his reflective lyricism on contemporaneity and its struggles, imprinting his take on the past decades’ glam and flares.
One of Zeros’ nods to the past is a trip to the singer’s very own. In the opening song You Better Believe!!!, the bridge lyric “What do you think about the rocket I built?” builds a nuanced reference to his debut album, What Do You Think About The Car?, released in 2017. With hits such as Brazil and Why Do You Feel So Down, the record established McKenna as a contender for the title of ‘the voice of our generation’ as he delivered songs of questioning and thoughtfulness. Although both albums share such common ground, Zeros differs from its predecessor by launching upwards, towards space, in a more sophisticated escapade.
With a cover that looks straight out of Destination Moon (1950) and inspiration from artists like Waterboys and Crosby, Stills & Nash, Declan’s sonore experiment orbits, utmostly, boldness. The textures to the universe he is trying to convey are translated into a sound distinguished by its heavy instrumentation, which layers strumming guitars, bouncing drums, charged piano keys and synthesizer flamboyance. Tracks like Be an Astronaut and Emily particularly throw the listener into a time warp with their auditory aesthetic, akin to the likes of Hunky Dory David Bowie and mid-sixties The Beatles.
The articulation of music and lyrics is underlined by the galactic era constructed - which, at last, turns out to be a dystopia of current concerns. From the imminent apocalypse depicted in the first song, for “the asteroid’s here!”, to the somewhat linear story of Daniel, who was “born to be an astronaut” but is hurt by giving into the pressure of his ambitions, modernity issues are discerned among the album’s retro-futurism. With elements like Nike sneakers and Quavers and critiques to climate change and social media, Declan approaches impending doom as something contemporary, and not as far as it may seem.
Zeros casts the listener off into a sonic, sci-fi expedition. Though at some points a chaotic overload, the album is a supernova in Declan McKenna’s discography, showing his creative expressiveness and maturing as an artist.