Arts, Music

Declan McKenna Balances Creative Sound and Commentary in ‘What Happened to the Beach?’


Declan McKenna’s third album, What Happened to the Beach?, is a masterful continuation of his recent dive into psychedelic indie rock. Released Feb. 9, What Happened to the Beach? provides easy listening, along with social commentary. McKenna weaves in self-reflection and his thoughts on broader issues, while creating an enjoyable and exploratory album.

The influence of other artists is quite evident on What Happened to the Beach?. The entire album gives the feeling of a Beatles record with a modern twist. McKenna’s use of upbeat melodies contrasts with the often serious message of his lyrics.

In “I Write the News,” McKenna sings, “I write the news / I know you can’t wait to bail on the southern rent / And the crime is high and so am I / All the Labour kids shout, to what extent?” 

The song repeats the same lines over and over again, but in the first verse, McKenna sings accompanied only by his guitar. This folkish sound is reminiscent of George Harrison’s acoustic-heavy All Things Must Pass. Suddenly, “I Write the News” shifts into a funky, psychedelic sound that seems to draw on ’80s psychedelia-inspired artists like Djo and MGMT. 

Like MGMT, McKenna does not shy away from self-reflection or darker themes, even when a song sounds upbeat. He acknowledges his neighborhood’s impact on him and his beliefs, and addresses other people’s perceptions of what that means.

“Sympathy,” on the other hand, opens much like a Harry Styles song. McKenna utilizes big band sounds and feelings to hook his listeners on a melody. He belts the opening with enthusiasm.

“Sympathy, won’t you come around / I don’t need the commotion / Usually though I’m up and down / You just need rollercoasters,” McKenna sings.

The sudden outburst of sound and emotion takes influence from Styles’ use of similar techniques in his music, particularly “Music For a Sushi Restaurant.”

McKenna’s experimentation also extends to the manipulation of his voice in his music. “Nothing Works” is one of the album’s standouts, with an unusual beat and funky synthesizer adding to the effect in the background. McKenna’s echoing of his own words as a chorus is reminiscent of David Bowie, contributing to his glam-rock image. “Nothing Works” continues the trend and contrasts upbeat melodies with serious lyrics. 

“But of course I’ll re-implore you / On the kind of nation that we have,” he sings.

He often turns to voice manipulation in his more overtly politically or socially opinionated songs, including his earlier breakthrough hit “Brazil” and single “British Bombs.” Perhaps McKenna is making a comment on how people’s voices are silenced or altered in political settings. Either way, he follows a long line of rockstars whose commentary appears in their songs in unique ways, such as Green Day’s “Holiday” and its reference to corruption within the U.S. government.

A final standout on What Happened to the Beach? is “Elevator Hum.” The track transitions from a softer and more relaxed sound at the beginning to embracing a sweeping, full-band energy at the very end. McKenna’s use of harmony and chorus in this song is reminiscent of Lorde’s album Solar Power. “Elevator Hum” feels like McKenna’s reflection on growing up, being famous, and learning how to mature. 

What Happened to the Beach? is an exciting look at McKenna’s future in music. His psychedelic rock sound both contrasts and matches the serious political and social commentary in his lyrics. McKenna’s inventiveness is promising and develops creatively across the album.


February 17, 2024