“What’s the point running? / Not like I’m up-and-coming anymore” Declan McKenna questions on ‘Nothing Works’, the second single released ahead of his latest album What Happened to the Beach?, revealing his anxiety to maintain creative momentum after his early success.

After winning Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition in 2015, aged 16, the English musician went from strength to strength with his politically-incisive 2017 debut album of colourful art-rock What Do You Think About the Car?, followed by 2020’s cosmic, glam-tinged Zeros.

Fittingly, the single is the song on the record most consistent with McKenna’s previous releases. With its restless, exhilarating energy, it echoes the adrenaline of 2019’s protest single ‘British Bombs’, while the insistent piano pounding through the verses is reminiscent of the Elton and Bowie-indebted Zeros.

Elsewhere, the album is more slippery, and more surreal, shifting uneasily between saturated primary colours, and muggy watercolour haze. Drawing on the psych-pop of Animal Collective, Tame Impala and Bombay Bicycle Club, the record is both softer and more dissonant than its predecessors. Opener ‘WOBBLE’ begins with crisp guitar picking, before McKenna and producer Gianluca Buccellati flood the track with reverb to create a heady, swimming atmosphere.

Singles ‘Elevator Hum’ and ‘Mulholland’s Dinner and Wine’ are similarly trippy, the former a busy, fluttering rainforest of a song, the latter a humid synthscape. The album’s lead single ‘Sympathy’ is bolder, a richly orchestrated Beatles-esque pop song. Meanwhile, ‘The Phantom Buzz (Kick In)’ is a heavy, fuzzy hard-rocker, followed up by the lean, elastic ‘Honest Test’, with its sun-soaked Mac Demarco sleepiness and clicking bossa nova beat.

There’s also a contrast between the direct, straight-talking lyrics of ‘Nothing Works’ and the more abstract verses McKenna sings through harsh vocal effects across much of the album. There are glimpses of political commentary in the satirical ‘I Write the News’ and in the record’s opening lines: “What happened to the beach? / It looks like it’s changing. / We used to get to breathe the air. / Now it’s ‘Thanks, pass the gas tanks'”’. But blunt, unambiguous protest songs are no longer.

With the change of direction on his third album, McKenna has proven the fears of getting stuck in the mud expressed on ‘Nothing Works’ entirely baseless. But while the mixture of colours and textures on the record will satisfy a range of tastes, there’s probably just one song you’ll be singing long after the track list comes to a close, and it’s the familiar yet invigorating, runaway rock & roll of ‘Nothing Works’.