Declan McKenna, What Do You Think About the Car? | Album Review
Teen British singer/songwriter Declan McKenna impresses with meaningful, mature songwriting on his debut album, ‘What Do You Think About the Car?’
The moment has finally arrived. After releasing his Liar EP in May 2016, Declan McKenna drops his debut album, What Do You Think About the Car? McKenna, who’s only 18, is a truly gifted, up-and-coming singer/songwriter. Where many musicians his age are most concerned with romance only, McKenna packs a serious punch with deep messaging, transcendent beyond his years.
Throughout the course of “Humongous,” it’s clear that McKenna isn’t happy. He begins the record antagonistically, continuing to showcase angst on the chorus. What message is the British wunderkind getting at? It’s clear he’s speaking up for generation Z. While he focuses on the youth, he’s also speaking for much of society as a whole. The highlight comes when the tempo and energy increase, and McKenna delivers a truly biting performance.
Another standout, “Brazil” thrives off of its socially conscious messaging. Even though McKenna constructs a meaningful message, he manages to make the song incredibly catchy, particularly the chorus. Furthermore, soccer – better known as football internationally – plays a role in “Brazil,” as the singer/songwriter tackles corruption with FIFA. Also, he drops some religious references as well. Sigh, this definitely isn’t what most teenagers are writing or singing about.
“The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home”
Momentum continues to be on McKenna’s side on another standout, “The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home.” Energetic to the nth degree, McKenna paints a portrait where the youth are clearly disgruntled, not receiving sufficient care in regards to their voice. This is exemplified on the chorus, where he points the finger at the adversaries:
“You don’t know how to give love to anyone / You don’t know how to pretend / You told your kids that they’d live long forever / But the kids don’t wanna come home again / No the kids don’t wanna come home again.”
“Why’d you keep changing your mind?” “Mind” is a stark contrast to “The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home.” Here, McKenna focuses on love and identity. As always, he seems to play on words, apparent early on.
“He took his shirt off as he ran, from you / So slowly away but I’ve found him / He’s fine.”
Fine is a double meaning, because he seems to be suggesting ‘he’s good,’ but also referencing good looks. Poetic, McKenna continues to write impressive, thoughtful, sometimes mind-boggling lyrics.
“Make Me Your Queen” finds the protagonist willing to take part in clear-cut unrequited love. Throughout the verses, there’s constant reiteration of the lyrics, “I mean nothing to you.” Even so, the victim of this unrequited love rationalizes it as opposed to finding a purposeful relationship.
“I know that I mean nothing to you babe / I’m in your grip from which I cannot escape / And I can’t help but think I might maybe not mean nothing to you babe / So make me your queen.”
“Isombard” takes shots at the right-wing media in the U.S. It opens with arpeggiated synths, followed by the entrance of a percussive groove and full-fledged production. The chorus is catchy and epic. McKenna’s vocals are enthused, exuberant, and aggressive. Ultimately, “Isombard” is an adrenaline rush given the quick pace.
The harmonic progression is one of the pros of “I Am Everyone Else,” coupled with its punchy rhythmic hits. There’s an angularity, given the chord changes, particularly pronounced during the verses. As far as messaging, McKenna focuses on pretending to be something you’re not – being “everyone else” but yourself. This isn’t the crème de la crème of What Do You Think of the Car? per se, but it represents another well-rounded, thoughtful moment.
Religion takes on a larger role on “Bethlehem,” evidenced by the title and the lyrical references. The connotation is negative on this particular song, something that McKenna addressed in an interview with Teen Vogue. That negative stuff he refers to are Christians who are “holier than thou,” yet sinful in their own right. On the chorus, he sings:
“Because I’m in Bethlehem / I got a seat in heaven/ And though I’m heaven sent / I can do as I want and you don’t have the right to choose.”
“Bethlehem” is another example of the genius of Declan McKenna. His messaging is pitch perfect here, even if it will upset some.
The production work shimmers on “Why Do You Feel So Down.” Incredibly rhythmic and exuberant in sound, the energy is another pro. Furthermore, “Why Do You Feel So Down” yields one of the best choruses of the album.
“So, don’t lie to me / I know I’m not as cool as I’d like to be / But why do you feel so down, again? / I know I’m not a very good friend / Why do you feel so down? / I’m sure, that’s not something I’d stick around for / Why do you feel so down? / Oh God, I know you think I’m safe and sound, I’m not / Why do you feel so down?”
“Paracetamol” is arguably the most moving song from What Do You Think of the Car? Situational, McKenna covers several relevant topics, most notably acceptance and embracement of various relationships as opposed to judgement and needless persecution. Influenced by the death of Leelah Alcorn (an Ohio transgender teen whose story affected the world), it’s aimed at building respect and acceptance of the LGBT community. It’s titled Paracetamol because it’s a pain reliever. McKenna aims to ease the pain and show support for a community where such support can be difficult to muster.
“Listen to Your Friends” concludes the album as captivating as it commenced. Here, the vocal tone stands, particularly when McKenna’s voice cracks, exhibiting a rasp. Notably, there is a poetic, spoken word section, finding the adventurous 18-year old continuing to aim big.
All in all, What Do You Think About the Car? ends up being a fantastic debut album from Declan McKenna. At just 18 years old, he proves he has plenty to offer artistically. Few 18-year olds deliver the depth and transcendent issues that the British singer/songwriter tackles here. One word: bravo!
Gems: “Humongous,” “Brazil,” “The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home,” “Isombard,” “Bethlehem” & “Paracetamol”