If there ever was a titanic comparison, it’s this one from The Sunday Times, as they refer to Declan McKenna as “a Bob Dylan for today’s teens”. This likening to a musical god is bred from McKenna’s socially and politically aware lyrics as well as being a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter. Hot on the heels of critical acclaim as well as a vibrant live performer McKenna is ready to unveil his debut LP ‘What Do You Think About The Car?’. What we have is an album that bristles with a youthful exuberance but as with anything teenage – there’s the pendulum effect – from vivacious to apathic but without the trappings of too much adolescent angst.
McKenna’s first offering is a woozy affair, taking in indie motifs reminiscent of early Mystery Jets and a little bit of The Maccabees (god rest their soul) but with enough of the young troubadour’s own personality captured, thus helping side-step any facsimile notions. The album commences with a blessing and a curse, in that ‘Humongous’ is the best track on ‘What Do You Think About The Car?’. It’s not just me that thinks it either, the man himself has stated the curtain raiser is his favourite “this was the last song I wrote for the record” speaking about ‘Humongous’, “not to pick a favourite child, but I think this might be. Definitely a step in the direction I’m heading in”. Suffice to say, album two is going to be an exciting prospective given ‘Humongous’s sonic blueprint. The stand-out song begins subtly, all melancholic acoustic strums and light drum patterns. However, as the track slowly evolves, a proggy thread announces itself via some cosmic synth lines, and before you know it the final third is propelled along by jerky beats and an infectious staccato rhythm.
It would be unfair to say that nothing else on the album measures up because there are some other gems to be unearthed but such is ‘Humongous’s strength as an opener – it’s just really fuckin’ great! Singles ‘Brazil’ and ‘The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home’ follow, the former a reference to the South American country hosting the recent football (I’ll never say soccer!) World Cup and how the money could have been better used to help the less fortunate “I’m going to burn your house down to spread peace and love and it gets me down”. Wiry guitars and jaunty notions give the song an anthemic feel. The latter track, another anthem in the waiting, kicks off understated but swells to something grander but with a playful tone as it sounds like McKenna has roped in a young brother and his mates to sing backing vocals. An apathic tone lays in wait “I guess I could start a war/I guess I could sleep on it” before everything bursts into a jubilant rainbow of colour.
Elsewhere on ‘What Do You Think About The Car?’ the magic of the album’s opening tracks is maintained by ‘Isombard’s playful bounce and although slightly more withdrawn than its peers ‘Make Me Your Queen’s hazy framework rooted in one sided infatuation “I know I mean nothing to you babe” and “I’m in your grip/from which I can’t escape” hint at a forlorn love interest that has dead-end written all over it. Also, the track makes a good use of some electronic trickery amongst the rootsy acoustic strums. However, the likes of ‘Mind’ and ‘I Am Everyone Else’ feel a little unfinished when measured against the rest of the album.
Let’s not talk about a mature sound because Declan is only 18 but ‘What Do You Think About The Car?’ innovation befits someone who has left the teens behind ages ago. McKenna has managed to take a snapshot of teenage feelings but without forging an album that won’t be looked at as one made by just a kid.
Words and thoughts of Adam Williams