Declan McKenna Avoids Sophomore Slump with Scintillating “Zeros”


Declan McKenna just releated his newest album “Zeros.” (Courtesy of Facebook)

Rebellious, thoughtful and socially conscious: Declan McKenna does it all on his recently released second full-length studio album titled “Zeros.” For those seeking some form of escapism, the album is the perfect fit, as it seems to be written from the perspective of an astronaut or extraterrestrial being observing our planet from afar. Featuring nods to David Bowie and classic British protest rock, “Zeros” is an energetic and youthful project consistent with, but an improvement on, his previous work.


McKenna, now 21 years old, was only 16 when his debut single “Brazil,” written about corruption in FIFA after the 2014 World Cup, first came out. The song gained immediate popularity and resulted in over 40 record companies vying to sign the young star. The song, which the BBC called extremely mature for a 16-year-old songwriter, was featured on his first studio album in 2017. McKenna continued making protest music with his release of “British Bombs,” which was, according to him, a song written “about the hypocrisy of the British arms trade and the weapons convention in London.” In several almost angry songs on “Zeros,” McKenna voices the fear of the future that young people all over the world have with regard to climate change, a fast changing world and quasi-fascistic governments that fail to listen to the little guy. 


“Twice Your Size” is perhaps the clearest song about climate change on the album, with McKenna himself calling it “an environmentalist jam” in an interview with Apple Music. The guitar rages throughout, perhaps expressing McKenna’s anger with policymakers who have allowed the problem to get as bad as it is. In fact, as I write this, fire envelops the west coast of the United States, making a once pristine landscape look like the site of the environmental collapse McKenna writes about in the song. Lyrics such as “Earth will change and we must grab our beds / And get off out of range” serve to express the fears of many that life on Earth as we know it is in danger unless we adopt important legislation to alter our current course. 


In the tradition of the many anti-establishment British stars that came before him, McKenna mentions former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as the root of some of the problems that the youth now faces. It’s strange, given that Thatcher has been dead since 2013 and hasn’t been in office since 1990, eight years before McKenna was even born. However, in “Rapture,” the eighth song of the 10-song album, McKenna sings, “Ms. Thatcher, your cruel heart navigates the world we live in,” suggesting that the policies of the Thatcher era linger in the world today, as governments ignore the wishes of those who don’t have a voice, or even ignore the voices of those standing up for something that they believe in. While the meaning of messages such as this are not difficult to decipher, McKenna’s songwriting leaves much up to personal interpretation, as all great literary works do. Such a feat is especially impressive given his young age.  


Each song on “Zeros” is thought provoking, unique and leaves the listener wanting more. McKenna finds a way to put his own signature spin on the indie genre using different combinations of piano, guitar and drum sounds, meaning that no two songs on the album sound the same. Perfect for putting on shuffle while studying or even blasting in the car with the windows down, “Zeros” is a passion project that has clearly come straight from Declan McKenna’s heart. He is vulnerable, expressing fears, sadness and anger at a multitude of things. As I’m sure he realized, given the socially conscious nature of his previous music, these feelings are certainly applicable for the time in which we live, dealing with both a global pandemic and our confrontation with systemic racism.