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In late 2019, Declan Mckenna headed out to Nashville to record his second album, Zeros, with producer Jay Joyce. By September 2020, he was battling out for a number 1 record with The Rolling Stones. “Nashville is a great place to record because it’s filled with a lot of creative people and music heads trying to escape LA.” This idea of a refuge is fitting for Declan, who wanted to be away from the pressures of London or the drab consistency of home, allowing for an intimacy and a desire to explore on this super galactic album that can only really be pursued in a place that is unfamiliar. Zeros is playful, wonderfully strange and intensely musical, but there’s a dark shadow looming throughout. It’s Coors Light and cowboy boots escaping a Silicon Valley dystopia.
Whilst Declan might have lost that particular battle by a whisker to Jagger and his cohorts on the very last day of sales, it showed just how far Declan had come since his arrival as a slight in stature, big ball of fizzing teenage energy only a few years earlier. The boy most likely to had very quickly become the young man to beat.
But for all the chart noise and colourful media presence, it’s the music that does the lionshare of the talking. Zeros is a curious, unique and bold record that is teeming with fresh ideas and nods back to eras that have no right to head up the charts in the year 2020. It’s a very British trait to focus on age, but it simply has no right to be conceived by a twenty one year-old who was younger still in its writing. Opening track, You Better Believe!!! comes in hot, aggressive and excitable. It’s a mean song, its accusational. You’ve changed. You’re gonna die. The world’s gonna end and everyone is going to forget you. It combines a retro, 70s space-race inspired energy with a modern tale of anxiety. Musically and lyrically, it provides a perfect blueprint to the album: ‘So you know how it feels to wait at Heaven’s gate for God,/ Watching your requiem on a screen… I’m sorry my dear,/ The Asteroids here.’ “I began to understand where I was strong with lyrics. Something that frustrated me with the last album was people relying on buzzwords, even though my songs were never just about one thing, so I began to consciously write these more abstract narratives. I wanted to make a story out of it instead of enforcing too much of one idea into a song.” Rather than allowing contemporary culture to explain away the record, we’re challenged by Declan’s kinship to the surreal, something closely connected to his inherent aversion to definition.