What do you get when you cross a glam rock visual style and an indie/alt rock sound with a self-identified protest singer? No, Dad, not Iggy Pop or Bowie (although they’re certainly influences here).
Brit prodigy Declan McKenna is back with a political vengeance, for his new single ‘The Key to Life on Earth’.
‘The Key to Life on Earth’ is the second single released for McKenna’s upcoming sophomore album Zeros. This track sees the good old Declan McKenna™ sound, swirled with a bit more ‘70s sonic inspiration. In conversation with DIY, the 21 year old revealed that for Zeros, ‘there’s a lot of ’70s references, a lot of Waterboys and Crosby, Stills and Nash, but it still feels modern… It definitely feels like a natural progression from the first one.’
His ‘first one’ What Do You Think About the Car? peaked at 11 on the UK album charts, so it’s unsurprising that McKenna continues to reproduce the sound of his debut.
Throwing it back further – McKenna entered the music scene at just 15, when he self-released ‘Brazil’. Not one to beat about the bush, this debut single has a no-holds-barred approach. ‘Brazil’ is a protest song openly criticising the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The biting single gained recognition after its re-release in August 2015, and McKenna secured a signing with Columbia Records in 2016.
4 years later, ‘The Key to Life on Earth’ was born.
An abundance of rhyme in the first verse makes the song seem almost satirical: ‘gold /let it unfold / imagine you’re dressed in gold’. In drips rhythmic plucky synths, guitar and an excellent bassline. Crashes and hi-hats punctuate the chorus which holds the track’s catchy refrain: ‘for all it’s worth / the key to life on earth’.
‘The Key to Life on Earth’ is quintessential McKenna – calculated sound and typical meaningful lyrics. This time, the lyrics ponder life and youth in Suburban London, and the confrontational nature of humans. In conversation with Annie Mac for Radio 1’s Future Sounds, McKenna explained: ‘it’s thinking about all those things and thinking about hostility when generally it all just comes from a place that’s solvable, or resolvable.’
As the song resolves itself, an underlying layer of twinkly glockenspiel adds some glocken-feel to the words, contrasting softness and harsh lyrics like ‘Come work in Brookfield Park and we can shut your mouth’.
‘The Key to Life on Earth’s music video dropped less than 24 hours after the track, grossing 300,000 views in less than 5 days.
Declan co-stars in this odd narrative with his lookalike Alex Lawther (who plays James in The End of the F***ing World). McKenna has been inundated with internet comments, jokes and memes about the similarities between him and Lawther. So, McKenna did what any musician would do: became friends with Lawther, and made a video with him, where Lawther plays a strange, alternate version of McKenna.
The pair frolic around a dark-toned London, slowly breeding hostility (and cockroaches) and ending in a beat-the-shit-out-of-each-other fight scene. Is the video about the monotony of life? Inescapable demons? Internal conflict? Beans? Maybe all of the above. Maybe none. Whatever it means, the Will Hooper-directed piece is entertaining to watch.
As usual, I finish listening to Declan McKenna feeling like my spirit is enriched and I’ve gained a better grasp on reality.
You can pay penance for your sociological sins too, by streaming ‘The Key to Life on Earth’ here.