Album Review: Declan McKenna – What Do You Think About the Car?

By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

Just like surprise releases and updated tracks, bedroom recordings have played a massive role in the new age of music during the digital era. Have a glance at Bandcamp and there'll be an abundance of tracks, EP's and albums on the frotnpage by artists from every corner of the world, made on their laptops while sitting on their duvets. This homemade feel is a draw for many and is something that Declan McKenna is a great believer in, as can be seen on his debut record: not only are 10/11 of the tracks made in his room but right off the bat, the album begins with a 10-year old recording of a young McKenna being asked what he thinks of the car, to which he replies "It’s really good, and now I’m going to sing my new album.

While it's nothing new to incorporate a personal sample like this, having listened to WDYTATC it's obvious that it's not being as some ploy to evoke nostalgia or something similar though this album undoubtedly explores times that many will look at through rose-tinted glasses. Adolescence is at the core of McKenna's debut and it brings with it some vertigo-inducing heights and disappointing lows – Paracetamol represent the former and is easily the most important song the young lad from Hertfordshire has ever made and possibly will ever make.

Inspired by Leelah Acorn, a transgender teen whose suicide shook the online community, the track never verges on being exploitative and does more than just be a tribute. McKenna himself has said it focuses more on the media's representation of the LGBT community and he displays this well lyrically, touching on how teenagers are undermined about their decisions when it comes to their identity. The dial up synths help to cement Paracetamol as a vital song in the digital age where we still have a lot of work to do to change our attitudes.

The Kids Don't Wanna Come Home shows the other end of this quality spectrum, a socio-political track that has the best of intentions but whose execution leaves a lot to be desired. Lyrics is where McKenna shines, though that's not to imply he can't craft a catchy sounding tune, but the instrumentals on here feel a bit too safe, often bordering on being dull which is a shame considering what the track tries to convey – youth in the UK have felt disenfranchised for years and when they make an attempt to stand up, they're often ridiculed. Had these lyrics just been applied with a different palette of sounds, Kids…could have very well been the quintessential political track of the 2010's.

It's when McKenna meshes his intelligent lines and quips with a catchy indie rock sound that he really reaches his prime. Second track Brazil is one of his oldest tracks, written around the time of the FIFA corruption scandal back in 2015, yet feels just as fresh two years later. Blending washed out instrumentals and a solid leading guitar with thoughts about corruption and poverty, songs such as this are the epitome of when McKenna's sound works best: they don't come off as "too woke for you" and sound fun enough that you could bash this on while soaking in the sun but have enough depth to them that they have some obvious effort put into them.

Isomboard is another tune that manages to do just this, looping synths and guitars weaving into a track that could have easily popped up on a recent Jamie T record due to this as well as the unsettling tone McKenna puts on at points. It doesn't always have to be sonic indie rock tunes to sound appealing as shown by I Am Everyone Else, a song that for the most part is stripped back though when it's not the glitzy Pixies-esque melodies that kick in are more than welcome. This coupled with the talk of politicians trying to fit in with the general public despite their elite backgrounds helps the album to feel like it's saying something new and not coming off as another white artist who has just read 1984 or seen V For Vendetta.

What Do You Think About The Car hits a speed bump every now and again, the aforementioned The Kids Don't Wanna Come Home as well as Mind and Make Me Your Queen are the obvious culprits, but especially for a debut record, McKenna never tones down his ambition throughout the 47 minutes this album accompanies us through. When tracks are good, they echo memories of the smart indie rock tunes we heard on Silent Alarm during the noughties and while it may not be an album chock full of them, it definitely feels fresh and full of aspiration – a new car smell so to speak.