Review Summary: Exit Silent Mode is a mostly "in one ear, out the other" affair, relying on the same tricks as a result of trimming down their influences. But when they nail it, their brand of pop-rock is just as infectious as ever.
The Rock Band Network was a service that allowed independent bands to sign up alongside charting companies to put their songs up for downloadable content on Rock Band, and this service attracted big bands with tons of underground hype like Between The Buried And Me, a few late bloomers like Nothing More and Bring Me The Horizon, and of course a whole bunch of garage and DIY acts that never went anywhere. One of the most fun/depressing things I've done since playing most of those songs is looking up to see whether some of those bands are still active, or if they had an internet presence at all, and you'd be shocked at how much music would have disappeared into the void if not for Team Aftermath's furious insistence on capturing videos of as many as possible.
Anyway, in our endeavour to capture as many songs as possible, we ended up running across a song called My Favorite New Disaster. In no uncertain terms, it quickly became one of my favorite songs to have ever landed on the service, perhaps in the entirety of Rock Band. This, to the flabbergastment of my friends. Among so much sleek nu-prog, intense death metal, intriguing indie rock and chilltastic ambient experimental electronica, you pick the crummy little pop song" Well, yeah. No other song hit me as hard. Few songs are singularly good enough for me to check out the full album as a result, so when I do, I'm hoping the album is just as magical as what hooked me in the first place.
Sadly, and there's no other way to put it, Exit Silent Mode is a damn sight more forgettable than its predecessor, For Crying Out Loud, a flaw I attribute to Megaphone actively refining their sound. Instead of mindlessly cribbing from as many 90s radio rock bands as they can, they've found a sound that's no more original but is at least identifiably theirs. But this is accomplished mostly by making so many songs sound the same. ESM features more high tempo songs than the last outing, and it's difficult to tell what separates one song from another. What magic does Write It Down provide that What If... does not, or Uncelebrated, or Making Sense" Chugging light rock riff, stacked harmonies in the chorus for a powerful layered sound, nice melody, done. Song's finished, on to the next one.
A lot of what made For Crying Out Loud at least a more tolerable listen is filed off in the pursuit of a more definitive sound. One of my biggest problems with the last album was its lyricism, which often dipped into tryhard corniness, likening it to Gen X-ers who listened to Pinkerton and missed the point. Here, the problem swings in the opposite direction, with the wordplay being thin on the ground and the lyrical content being so generic and impersonal there's very little to grab onto most of the time. It robs a lot of songs of their power, a damn shame as the songwriting is generally more well-rounded this time. A lot of the choruses rely on the same trick of blasting block harmonies alongside the lead vocals, but the verses, bridges, breakdowns and solos are all much more well developed this time. As compositions, every song feels more full, but not more fulfilling.
The best moments on Exit Silent Mode are its most earnest, its most strained, the ones with the most spit and elbow grease put into them. I will say, just about every slower song on here I liked a whole lot. The obvious stand-out is, of course, My Favorite New Disaster, a work of accidental genius the likes of which gives it the magnetism of an Oasis song without the over-indulgence. The chorus and pre-chorus hooks are just insane, and the verses and solo provide the perfect tension through which the choruses provide the perfect pay-off. In an alternate universe, this song would have been written in the 90s and become one of the biggest hits of the decade. I simply cannot overstate how much I love this song.
Other highlights include Whisper, a solid verb-tinged ballad that also could have easily been a minor hit in the 90s, coming off as a more chipper Collective Soul song, with some excellent harmonies that actually do their own thing instead of just mirroring lead, and a simple but superb solo and bridge. When We Were Young is also a rare demonstration of humanity, being another song about Matt's folly-filled youth, but it's the kind of song that demands more simple songwriting to work for what it wants to accomplish. Though the small acoustic break doesn't hurt either.
See, it's not like Megaphone are really failing at what they want to accomplish with this album. The goal still remains to be simple but catchy and enjoyable, and the moments where it accomplishes this shine so much brighter than anything on For Crying Out Loud, with some of its songs even being superseded by this record (Freak is overtaken by When We Were Young, etc.). But those are the moments; the album as a whole is arguably slightly worse as a listening experience, albeit more refined, because much of the album just sounds the same as each other. Again, if your songwriting is this simple, you have to waste as few minutes as possible, and some of these songs just seem like pure filler. Filed down to an EP, this could have been something magical.
But...I really, really love My Favorite New Disaster, and in general, I just like the mood of the album. It's a shot of playful joy with a slight edge of adultness. The sweating is not as crass in this one for sure, and even though Matt Bloodwell strains himself on half the vocal takes in this album, I find it charming all the same. There's a universal magic to this album, and the immediacy of the package ironically gives it some special identity all its own, albeit not a whole lot. And hey, even in more bland listens like Horse You Rode In On, it'll usually have some last minute swerve to put the song above complete mediocrity. The guitar solos are way better on this album, that's for damn sure.
Megaphone have a niche and a passion, and they're chasing it for all its worth on ESM. The simple brilliance of good songwriting remains their best asset, and it's not just relegated to the choruses this time, which is what makes several tracks on here greater than anything on FCOL. It's just a shame they don't try writing a balls out prog jam or even a piano ballad every once in a while to break up proceedings. Their sense of style is fun but fleeting, and can only be handled in small doses.