Album Review: Declan McKenna “What Happened to the Beach?”

A pixelated drawing of two cows in a grassy field with blue skies behind them. Text above reads: What Happened to the Beach? Declan McKenna album review"
Graphics by Brigs Larson

By Jimena Cieza, Staff Writer

Artist: Declan McKenna 

Album: What happened to the Beach?

Favorite Songs: “WOBBLE,” “Nothing Works” and “The Phantom Buzz (Kick In)”

For Fans Of: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Cage the Elephant and Wallows


Three years after the release of his sophomore album Zeros, Declan McKenna returns with an album that sets itself apart from the rest of his discography.



Declan McKenna initially made a name for himself by incorporating politics into his music. In his debut album, What do you think about the car?, the singer speaks up on themes such as depression amongst the LGBTQ+ community and the corruption of the FIFA World Cup. By doing so, he set a foundation for what listeners would soon become accustomed to expect from him. His following pieces of work appeared to be a natural progression of this — his 2019 single “British Bombs” being the most plain-speaking one. 

Due to this precedent, when the release of What Happened to the Beach? was announced on September 13th of 2023, fans naturally anticipated more of the world McKenna had created for them. The artist, however, made it clear he had other plans in mind through the release of his ’60s pop-inspired lead single, “Sympathy.” The track starts off by expressing dissatisfaction: “Sympathy won’t come around,” McKenna announces. Nonetheless, once the song picks up, what started as complaints turn into affirmations— “Sympathy’s gonna come around. So make peace and discover.” With this single alone, McKenna perfectly set the tone for what was going to come next: an album that deals with self-discovery, and sharing the lessons learnt along the way.



The opener, “WOBBLE,” is an ideal depiction of the album’s central theme of self-discovery. This is one of the most stripped-down songs from the album. From my perspective, it sonically resembles Tiny Tim’s distinctive sound, at least in the beginning and chorus. During the track, the singer asks one question after the other. The experience of listening to it is similar to sitting in front of the sea and asking yourself questions without finding answers — it’s reflective and calm. Still, the artist makes an attempt at answering them throughout the album, and in this progression, there’s an evolution in the record’s sound too. 

The energy in this album builds up as you get further along in the listening journey. It is in its seventh track, “Nothing Works,” that we are able to find the hyper sound reminiscent of what we had grown to expect from McKenna. “Nothing Works” touches on the music production industry, and the difficulties of trying to grow as an artist when executives simply want more of what the artists became famous for. The theme may not be overly jolly, but its sound sure is. With claps that can be found all throughout, the song exudes an intoxicating beat that you can’t help but bop your head to, and, it fortunately comes with the perfect video to match it. Still, aside from “The Phantom Buzz (Kick In),” the tracks that follow decrease the energy slightly again. 



In “Honest Test,” the singer discusses love with lyrics that are not necessarily cohesive from one to another, yet this is done intentionally. After all, love can and has been described endlessly, but “cohesive” is not an adjective that is often used for it. Later track “It’s an Act” touches similarly on the subject of love, with lyrics that tackle leaving all pretense aside when missing someone. It is in this happy note, (please note my sarcasm) that the album almost comes to an end. 

In its final song, “Four years” McKenna repeats its title again, and again before saying “It could be a cool end to—” before cutting away. What this means exactly remains a mystery, yet I hope it is not related to the artist’s retirement from music. It is more than evident that he has more to offer, and with a sound like his, four years would simply be cutting it short.

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