Review Summary: It doesn't quite have the variety it should to be a five star classic, but otherwise, Sending Out A Signal is Megaphone firing on all cylinders. Hooks for days, surprisingly moody, and doesn't waste a minute of its runtime.
Like I said in a previous review, something I like to do while looking at bands that hit the Rock Band Network and see if they still have an online presence and are still putting out albums. It's occasionally harrowing to see what top level bands didn't survive past the year 2013, but thankfully Megaphone was not one of those bands...sort of. This album, Sending Out A Signal, came out in 2017, but distribution for this album is strangely limited. Every other one of their works can be found on Spotify and Youtube's Topic videos, but this album demands you buy it from their store. It's an insipid method of "promotion" in the digital age, where music has a huge problem with oversupply, and made for a poor lead foot forward. But onwards I went, impressed enough by the band's previous work that I was willing to pay to hear their follow-up. And I'm very glad I did, in the end.
First of all, Megaphone's biggest problem is that even though they can write incredible choruses, that didn't stop some of their past songs feeling like filler. Any minute where I wasn't totally engaged exposed the ultimate simplicity of their writing style, which doesn't have to be a flaw at all, as plenty of poppier acts like The Cars and even The Who to an extent have gotten through entire albums by just cutting down the fat and relying on what they do best. And Megaphone comes the closest to joining their ranks, arguably eclipsing even Weezer's Blue Album at least in the sense of using every minute sensibly. SOAS's biggest issue remains a lack of ultimate variety, but there is no shortage of cool little moments, and most importantly, not one song here is extraneous.
Opening track Not So Pretty features one of their more classic rock riffs and rhythms (the backing vocals remind me a lot of Warren Zevon's A Certain Girl), but also includes use of keyboards for some extra backing colour. Altogether, it sounds like it can match any late era Foo Fighters song. This is expertly followed by If You Want It, You Can Have It, which also uses the cowbell very well in the chorus. Megaphone actually restrain their guitar usage during, letting the body drop out for extra effect when the harmonies kick in. Such a simple change adds a big punch and makes it one of their catchiest songs, and that says a lot because the hooks on this album are among the band's best.
Whether it's a prettier song like All Good or On Your Side, which utilise more acoustic elements for a more homely feel, or a good driving rocker such as Now or Lonely, whose melodies bob and weave in just the right places, every song on here is catchy and memorable and has its own identity. The solos in the backends of All Good, Now and Lonely add a lot of dimension to proceedings and complement the songs the best out of every solo in the band's catalogue. The stacked harmony bridge near the end of Under The Sun, which reminded me of Frost* of all bands, provides some great repetitive accenting of the song's message. The gospel inspired harmonies at the end of On Your Side give the band a new aesthetic to play with entirely, and they pretty much nail it.
Not that I want to oversell the dynamism and songwriting depths of the album, though, as this is still a pop-rock album made by a bunch of guys who really liked the 90s alt-rock that got popular. Though even then, they dip their toes into heavier influences than the pop-rock of the day, as the slightly sludgy sound of Under The Sun, and certainly the incredible harmony work, is quite close to Alice In Chains in songwriting, and similar in effect (although far less depressing, obviously). But it still is what it is, and though there's a feeling of their shooting for the same effect as The Cars or Boston, an album full of A-sides, even they had their more varied and experimental moments. But it's not like this is much of a flaw either, as it also lacks the indulgence of those records, and this is plainly the best vision of Megaphone's mission statement of catchy pop-rock, start to finish.
To say nothing of the various improvements made under the hood, too. Matt Bloodwell belted it out more on Exit Silent Mode, but in general, he has never sounded better as a singer, cleaner but just as powerful. The guitar, as previously mentioned, has its cracking moments of cool solos, the production in general is much improved, not only with better tones for every instrument and a fuller mix, but also more chances taken with self-harmonies. When Megaphone's harmony-heavy choruses kick in, it delivers a serious sense of style.
But there's also a slight edge of moodiness to parts of it, too. Under The Sun is a bit of a clumsy metaphor for standing against oppression, but with its ascending scale, it ultimately delivers. It's preceded by the very cheeky sounding All Good, and is quickly followed by Now, an almost fatalistic version of your standard love song, with the lyrics telling the object of affection not to worry about tomorrow as it hasn't arrived yet, delivered with enough speed to almost be beckoning for the inevitable next day to arrive anyway. Lonely is just plain depressing, as you can guess by the title. Hell, the final song, When You Get There, seems to be about crossing over into the afterlife and possibly using that as a metaphor for a break-up. The first time I heard it, I felt it was melodramatic. Ruminating on it for a while, it actually works, and the drone of the track's closing chorus gives it the bigness it needs to justify itself. It's also a damn good thing it was the closing track.
Well...sort of. Purchasing this album also gives you two demos. Believe is another good but fairly standard rocker the band can add to its arsenal; aside from the 4/4 to 3/4 switch-ups, it has little of note on its own. Satellites, however, is actually really good. Again, there's a mild sweeping moodiness to the whole package, and when the harmonies toy with the major scale near the end, it sounds like an amped up Jeff Buckley track. It sits up there with Now, Whisper and My Favorite New Disaster as songs that could have easily become hits had they launched in the 90s.
My only real problem with this album is that it doesn't quite have enough variety for my tastes. About half the songs sound like they have the same tempo, and though there's no shortage of little moments in each song, the flow could have stood to be diversified a little bit. I remarked last time about the lack of piano ballads half-jokingly, but their acoustic EP proves they could have easily whipped out a More Than Words clone and nailed it if they wanted to. Every song on this album is good to great, but the album experience suffers a little from the no-frills. But such an argument can also be made about Boston's self-titled, whose songs definitely had a formula, and Sending Out A Signal makes up for the lack of a Foreplay/Long Time or Let Me Take You Home Tonight by being less transparent about the similarities between its More Than A Feelings, its Hitch A Rides and its Peace of Minds. Err, if that makes sense.
The first time I listened to this album, I was honestly a little distracted. However, I knew I liked enough of it to immediately want to spin it again, and when I did, I was humming along and tapping my foot to most of the songs. And as much as we can remark about the majesty and artistry of music, I don't think there's a better sign of a great album than that. It's a stalwart pop-rock album that is hardly peerless or a breath of fresh air, but is very entertaining and with just enough hidden depths to have the replay value it finally deserves.