And although he looks a little different, his singing style hasn’t changed. He has an interesting delivery–with notes that sound like they crack as he sings. But he is in total control.
The blurb notes:
It’d be easy to look and listen to this young English singer and think he’s just another sensitive songwriter with a guitar, singing about his troubles. But Declan McKenna writes about a much bigger world than you or I might expect from a singer who only recently turned 18. He came to NPR this past summer, a bit nervous but passionate. He stripped down three of his songs to their musical essence, and the power of their words eclipsed the hooks for which they’re equally known. “Bethlehem” tackles religion:
Because I’m in Bethlehem
I’ve got a seat in heaven
And though I’m heaven sent
I can do as I want and you don’t have the right to choose
McKenna’s most famous tune, “Brazil,” is a song about football, money and poverty that also touches on religion.
But even without the blurb, his music pretty well speaks for itself. “Bethlehem” begins slowly, with him singing in a deeper voice but when he gets to the chorus his voice starts to break in his trademark way. And as the song moves on he shows off a strong falsetto as well. He opens “Brazil” with a little guitar flub which makes him laugh before he starts again. The song sounds very much like other versions I’ve heard—his vocal style is all deliberate. The chorus is so catchy (whatever it’s about):
I heard he lives down a river somewhere
With 6 cars and a grizzly bear
He got eyes, but he can’t see
Well, he talks like an angel
but he looks like me.
And I love how after all of this catchy stuff, he throws in a third section that is even catchier than the rest:
I wanna play the beautiful game while I’m in Brazil
Cause everybody plays the beautiful game while in Brazil
It’s all you’ve ever wanted, and it’s all that you want still
Don’t you wanna play the beautiful game out in Brazil?.
It’s practically a different song. But so good.
This is the first I’ve heard “Isombard” (which I looked up afterward and is much more synthy). He says he’s never done this acoustic before. He describes the song as being “somewhere between baroque pop and riff rock so it doesn’t translate easily.” It’s got a very pretty melody and his slower singing style. The song is also catchy and I’m surprised he hasn’t caught on a bit more yet.
[READ: January 17, 2017] “A Window to the World”
The narrator tells us that there were two writes at the Yiddish Writers’ Club in Warsaw. Each of these men had talent and earned a reputation but then seem to have been silenced forever.
The two men were Menahem Roshbom (who had written three novels before he was 30) and the other was Zimel Hesheles (who had written one long poem at the ages of 23). Since then, nothing–Roshbom was now in his 50s and Hesheles in his late 40s. The two played chess and although Roshbom was a better player, he would always lose patience near the end which would cost him the match.
Roshbom had taken to journalism. He was a chain-smoker and he carried on with women, mostly from the Yiddish theater. He had divorced three times and was currently with another man’s wife. By contrast Hesheles was small, reserved and silent. He was poor but came to the club every day at noon and left at 2 when others came for lunch.
The younger writers of the club of course wondered why these two had stopped writing. They came up with rumors and spread gossip. Especially about Hesheles they wondered was he impotent or gay? Was he really writing right now or lying about that? The narrator says that he had recently become interested in psychic research and wondered if the strange Hesheles was actually a spirit.
Then on a winter’s evening, a friend of the narrator’s rushed in to say that Hesheles had gotten married. The lucky bride was Senorita Lena Hesheles, a beautiful relative who was visiting from Buenos Aires. She fell in love with Zimel at first sight and married him.
Zimel stopped coming to the club for a time–obviously spent alone with his wife. But eventually he began returning with Lean in tow. She spoke Yiddish with a Spanish accent. She was as loud and talkative as he was quiet. She turned out to be a writer as well.
She aspired to learn Yiddish better and some of the young writers helped her. Eventually she wrote a poem in Yiddish. It wasn’t good, but the young writers praised it anyway.
The end of the story has a dramatic moment, but it also focuses on something that I know nothing about: The narrator says he was trying to write a novella about “the false messiah Jacob Frank.” I have no idea who this was, but the narrator has a revelation about his story as he is walking through the park. But then he looked up and saw Roshbom with Zimel’s wife Lena–they were holding hands and kissing.
After this, a few things happen. There is talk of love and the narrator’s father’s disdain for it, but there is also an impact from Lena.
I wanted a smidge more from this story.