Music, etc. by Eric D. Johnson
Every year I put together a compilation of songs called This Is Not Christmas Music. The title is has a silly backstory, and while it’s kind of a “best songs of the year” list, it also absolutely is not a “best songs of the year” list
Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting tossing out posts related to this, including individual songs and notes of various lengths.
Today we have two songs from Zeros by Declan McKenna. Last week I took the dog for a walk at Terry Trueblood, and ended up listening to these songs at least 5 times each. At least. “The Key To Life On Earth” brings a lump to my throat in a couple of places, notably and inexplicably on the lines “We’ve been held up for after school meetings, they’ve got it in for me” and more explicably (given the politics of my rock and roll heart) on “The thing is/These out of touch, scrounging rich kids/are living here for free/On my home turf/The key to life on earth.” As with most songs worth thinking about, its difficult to boil what it’s “about” down to a pithy sentence, but the line “Iron your suit and tie, forever until you die” and the closing chant (including “come work in Brookfield Park and we will shut your mouth”) suggest a meditation on the age old problem of how we live with full hearts in a system designed to break them?
I haven’t made it as far into the lyrics of “You’d Better Believe” but it seems to be some kind of a science fiction narrative (as does the album as a whole per some reviewers) involving escape from a dying earth. So maybe as the first song on the record this is kind of like if “5 Years” was pumped full of teenage hormones and then tied to the back of a rocket?
I should limit my remarks to what I do know: It’s got a great opening line. I love the overstuffed production, particularly the little tiny fragments of autotuned backup vocals that fly back and forth from speaker to speaker on the chorus. And, on this and on “The Key To Life On Earth” I love the scratchy, superstrum rhythm guitar that peeks out from behind the wall of modern production detail, pushing and rising until it hits the stratosphere.
I don’t know much about McKenna, and am more interested in getting my affection for these songs out into the world than I am in going and finding out what I’d need to know to present much in the way of a credible overview. But the format playing out in my mind demands something, so: He’s young, (23) and came to fame first as a teenage contest winner before releasing a couple of singles (“Brazil“) and (“British Bombs“) that tied him to admirable lefty politics. “British Bombs” brought me to him because it reminded me of The Clash, without sounding much like them except maybe for the hint of reggae in the verses. The details and references in McKenna’s songs are stubbornly British, but if you’re an American rock and roll fan that grew up on The Clash and The Kinks (among other bands) this is a feature, not a bug. I imagine I’ll have more to say once I get past these two songs and listen to the rest of the record.