Declan McKenna – ‘What Happened to The Beach?’ album review: Plenty to like, even if it doesn’t live up to the hype


Declan McKenna’s ‘Big Return’ has finally reached its climax with the long-awaited release of his third studio album, What Happened to The Beach?. It joins What Do You Think About the Car? and Zeros in McKenna’s impressive collection of albums. So, how does it fare compared to these earlier releases? Does it hold its own? Most importantly, do we find out what happened to the beach?

His first album tackled suicide and police brutality, while his second discussed climate change and class division. This time, he’s toned it down slightly, focusing less on the world and more on himself. So, it’s understandable that it’s perhaps less sophisticated, and this trend begins with the opener, ‘WOBBLE’. It’s mysterious and playful, and while it isn’t the title track (there isn’t one), it may as well be as the cryptic album title is mentioned. With its chilled-out feel, it’s suitable for listening to on the beach, whatever has happened to said beach.

The next few songs are where the album picks up (I did think it needed to) and takes a turn. The duo of ‘I Write The News’ and ‘Sympathy’ work perfectly together. The former comments on misinformation and arguments, while the latter discusses not needing ‘to be clever’, but rather explaining that you simply need to listen and speak the truth. If ‘I Write The News’ presents a problem, ‘Sympathy’ provides the solution. ‘Sympathy’ is probably the strongest of the lot, and listening to it in the context of the album is quite rewarding. ‘I Write The News’ is good enough, though somewhat chaotic. At times it seems McKenna is letting his emotions run wild, and while this worked wonders in Zeros, it’s not so effective here.

Completing what could be the strongest run in the album is ‘Mulholland’s Dinner and Wine’. It’s about searching for fun in the wrong places, but it feels right. It’s groovy, with McKenna’s favourite, the synth, really shining. You could say this is his forte.

It was always going to be difficult to top what is, quite possibly, a perfect album in Zeros. Nevertheless, parts of the album disappoint. ‘Breath of Light’ is a big change of direction as Declan welcomes us to Hell (his words, not mine). This is a jam session morphed into a song, but it never quite gets going. The distorted vocals, as cool as they are, don’t help here. It’s very experimental, though given McKenna’s words in the lead up to release, he achieved what he aimed for. The album even includes a love song, though not a conventional one, with ‘Honest Test’ slowing things down once again. This does a good job of showcasing McKenna’s range, both musically and vocally.

To finish, things come full circle with the slower ‘It’s An Act’. It’s quite different to the rest of the album, ending on a melancholy topic of feeling unable to be yourself. I think this, along with ‘Nothing Works’, are the two songs which sum up the album and McKenna’s headspace. He wants to be himself, both in life generally and specifically when making music.

McKenna said a lot of this album was spontaneously written, and this has resulted in big highs as well as lows. Perhaps it’ll grow on me, particularly when listening in the warmer summer months, on a beach, as I suspect was intended. It’s certainly not going to top Zeros, but whether it is McKenna’s ‘worst’ album is irrelevant, because it’s coming up against such an impressive discography for a 25 year-old. We still don’t really know what happened to the beach, but there’s plenty to like here, even if a full play through can feel a little jarring.

Declan McKenna will be performing at O2 Academy Bournemouth in April.

What Happened to The Beach? is out now via Columbia Records. You can watch the music video for ‘Mulholland’s Dinner and Wine’ below.


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