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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Review: ‘What Happened to the Beach?’ is a synth-heavy fever dream

Declan McKenna’s third album does too much at once

English singer-songwriter Declan McKenna is no stranger to creating funky music, and his junior record “What Happened to the Beach?” is no exception. 

McKenna released the new album this month, adding to his discography of “What Do You Think About the Car?,” which featured his hit song “Brazil,” and the album “Zeroes.”

Unlike his other albums, this one was a challenging listening experience. “What Happened to the Beach?” still offers McKenna’s signature commentary on politics and the human experience, but is packaged in a new format.

Listening to this record radiates similar vibes to The Beatles, and The Guardian’s review compared it to the band’s acclaimed self-titled release, often called the “White Album.” Each of the songs on McKenna’s album can be split between two general categories: psychedelic trip and acoustic funk.

Giving McKenna credit where credit is due, it’s incredibly hard to execute an album of this style, let alone do it well. The songs that do work are very strong, including “I Write The News” which contains pointed social commentary, the LA-living-inspired “Mulholland's Dinner and Wine” and the dance-worthy “The Phantom Buzz (Kick In).”

Mezzanine” and “It’s an Act,” both more acoustic songs, are also successes of the record. “It’s an Act” seems to hearken back to songs on McKenna’s freshman album such as “Paracetamol” and “Listen to Your Friends.”

Unfortunately, the album’s stronger tracks all are just experimental enough to push the boundaries of McKenna’s repertoire while remaining palatably alternative. 

On the other hand, the songs that McKenna chose to push boundaries on, like the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”-esque (once you hear it, you’ll understand) “Breath Of Light,” are simply over-produced, featuring everything from autotune to synthesizers blasting off at full force.

Other tracks, like the slow “Honest Test,” are incredibly forgettable. “Sympathy,” the first single for this album, also feels forgettable compared to McKenna’s other singles, such as “Beautiful Faces” and “The Key to Life on Earth” from his sophomore album “Zeroes.”

Speaking of singles, those on this album stand in such stark contrast to other tracks that hearing them is like being shocked back to reality. “Sympathy,” “Mulholland's Dinner and Wine” and “Nothing Works” all offer much clearer annunciation than more unconventional tracks like “WOBBLE,” “Elevator Hum” and “4 More Years.”

“Mulholland's Dinner and Wine” still matches the vibe of the rest of the album, blending into the more synth-forward, dream-like landscape of the album. But, “Sympathy” and “Nothing Works” unfortunately don’t mesh as well with the rest of the tracklist, sounding too obviously watered-down and catchy to fit a more generalized audience.

Overall, McKenna’s third album is more cohesive than his first album but less so than the second. That said, he tries to accomplish so many things and with such obvious influences that this album risks leaving listeners feeling like it’s predictable and overworked. 

Fans of his other work may or may not love this project, but there could definitely be support among fans of the eccentric days of The Beatles and British 60s, 70s and 80s fans.

“What Happened to the Beach?” is available to stream on Spotify.

This article was edited by Marina Zaczkiewicz, Sara Winick and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks and Sydney Kornmeyer.

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