McKenna’s ‘Zeros’ tours the galaxy


Trisha Atluri

Declan McKenna released his sophomore album, Zeros, on Sept. 4. The Sidekick co-sports editor Anjali Krishna discusses the album’s riveting plotline and how it helps craft McKenna’s unique sound.

Anjali Krishna, Co-Sports Editor

In a world in which Declan McKenna had no interest in songwriting, Zeros would still exist; not as an album but as the script for the best sort of a Netflix drama. 

A ragtag team of misfits searching for the meaning of existence as they scour the galaxy come to life under McKenna’s craft. Three years following his debut album, “What Do You Think About The Car?that cemented him as a rising star in Brit-Pop, Zeros is far more mature, though lacking the radio-playability of some of McKenna’s earlier songs.

Wholly, Zeros serves as a metaphor for the confusing life on earth as a young person. Directed through a hazily described unlikely leader, Daniel, named first on the daunting “Be An Astronaut” and alluded to throughout, boils down to a man young, lost and overwhelmed.

Thrusting into McKenna’s dystopia, the opener “You Better Believe!!!” is shatteringly aggressive. Destruction of the world he has built is already underway: “Oh, I’m sorry, my dear / The asteroid’s here.” That intensity continues throughout the album and at times, edges on too much with its massive drum lines and minute-long guitar solos. 

Had there been something slower and less volatile, the subtle emphases and changeability on the other tracks would have been easier to catch and appreciate, rather than being overwhelming. Certain elements, like the abrupt changes in pace, keep things spontaneous, energetic and on-theme, but make listening to Zeros in full a challenge.  “Rapture”, for example, is a masterpiece at the end of the album. When finally reached, the many unique inflections to the song are ironically tiring.

If “You Better Believe!!!” is the exposition of the album’s storyline, setting up a spacey background with lines “fastest gun in the solar system” and “What do you think about the rocket I built?”, “Be An Astronaut” is the inciting incident, flashing back to the blooming interest in space, or more literally, changing the world. Those dreams are quickly crushed by conflict, the suburban divisions on “The Key to Life on Earth” and the social media mess on “Beautiful Faces.”

References to the mundane, “Written on sandwich boards / Outside the shop where they sell your favourite drink” masterfully pull McKenna’s message back to Earth from rocket boots and lasers, grounding each far-off concept.

A continuation of the environmental discussion in “Twice Your Size”, “Rapture” is about seeing “all sorts of crap on the TV these days,” worrying about it, then being helpless when it comes to acting on it. Expressing the young people of today’s largest issue in exactly four minutes seems a heavy task, but McKenna manages it remarkably well.

“Daniel, You’re Still a Child” is what goes on after that helplessness: feeling lost and alienated, coupled with darker undertones of heading in more sinister directions. Leaving almost everything open to interpretation, it is perhaps the album’s best track.

And at last, the climatically satisfying “Sagittarius A*” is where everything goes wrong because the long mentioned doom is finally here. Some change, some hope, something should have come to turn the tide by now but instead, the prescient first line,“You’re gonna get yourself killed” comes true as a black hole takes everything. As cleanly and piercingly as an unfeeling star would, McKenna elegantly sweeps up the world he’s made and bins it.

“Eventually, Darling” is the seemingly tragic ending as the dust settles, the music playing behind the moment the army behind the main characters realize their frontmen are gone and the fighting stops. What’s done is done and change has happened, whether that be for better or worse. 

Reminiscent of David Bowie and the Beatles, particularly in the earliest tracks, the entirety of British rock has a pinch of influence in his album. While McKenna’s nods to his idols are anything but subtle, Zeros is far from imitatory. Modern takes on modern problems carefully allow him to instead weave his own brand, a new take on music, one reflecting the paradoxical youthful helplessness and hope of a generation just coming of age.

Follow Anjali (@anjalikrishna_) and @CHSCampusNews on Twitter.