While ‘The Tories’ were highly underrated by critics and music listeners alike, Bertrand showed his gifted songwriting and bringing that songwriting to life with aimable and passionate approach during his time with ‘Avion’. The underground music movement picked up on this and songs like Seven Days Without You and especially Beautiful got some attention. Unfortunately for them and for the rest of the world who did not get a chance to hear it, the success failed to crossover into the mainstream media. But it was this underground success that proved those who did listen that Avion was something special. And there never was any doubt that Betrand was the driving force behind that talent. He now returns with a beautiful and personal record called “Pain is a Megaphone”, a title which symbolically entails a lot of the hard times this gifted musician had to withstand. On AlternativeAddiction he mentioned that this record didn’t come from the most joyful period of his life, but “Pain is a Megaphone” is the proverbial good that came from it.
The record starts out with the radio single The Last Mile Is The Longest. The song is very pop sensible and shows Steve Bertrand’s uncanny ability to write one of the best pop hooks in modern-day pop music. The chorus is extremely catchy and Betrand’s vocals are leaving a mark on the listener. The uptempo rock & roll of this song is the driving force of energy, while Betrand’s singing provides for the emotional input of the song. And before you know it you hear yourself singing: “The last mile is the longest…”
Even though “Pain is a Megaphone” started out very strong with The Last Mile Is The Longest, Bertrand manages to top himself on the second song. In The Dreaming is a mix of utter despair with a slight glimmer of hope, without knowing if that hope is within or without reach. Betrand’s songwriting, both musically and lyrically feed that story and that feeling to the listener. This ability places him among the top songwriters of his time, only to be rivaled by songwriting greats like Butch Walker, Jason Wade, David Poe, Richard Marx & Joe Hedges, who for the most part are underrated as well.
The ironic title of the third song, What If Everything Goes Right, is something that many people have probably wondered about. The song itself is another beautiful pop gem. The lyrics, while very strong, aren’t even the songs best assett. The build-up and breathy vocals combined with the overall fee of the song present the listener a ready-made package that no doubt penetrates deep into the soul. With good influences drawn from powerpop/rock & roll as well as the alternative circuit, Bertrand crafted together as strong song that has more than enough potential to give him some of the credit he’s deserved for such a long time.
The title track Megaphone is up next and is perhaps the most emotionally laden song of the album. Early in the song it was harder for me to see its potential to reach out, exactly because it’s pretty heavy, but Bertrand shows his talent once again and as the song goes on in a fashion that just makes you feel it. And by the time he reaches the chorus, you can just hear this on the radio. I’m pretty enthusiastic about music, but it’s not very often that I’m so convinced of an artists talent as Steve Bertrand shows on this record. And while In The Dreaming might still be the best track on the album, the title track really does a good job rivaling for the award of best song of the album. The brilliant build-up and passionate delivery of this incredibly emotional song leaves you satisfied as well as feeling a little sorry. It’s a challenging song but one that does so in the very best way possible. In a way, Bertrand reminds me of Chad Perrone who has that same uncanny ability to write passionate, emotional songs that have a build up that draws you in slowly but very very surely.
And if you were wondering where the radio hits were on this record, you should definitely listen to Renting A Room which is just waiting to be picked up by a major station. The words break-through single definitely come to mind while listening to this one. The catchy song makes it impossible for anyone not to get into it and Bertrand’s soulful and passionate vocals only add to the strength of Renting A Room. And while today’s radio hits can sometimes be a little shallow when it comes to the lyrics, or too cheesy, or at least not too imaginable, Bertrand also covered that part of the song with a very strong effort. He subtly changes tempo and intensity in the song a couple times which is impressive, as he makes the song sound way more simple than it is. Renting A Room is proof that a good pop song doesn’t necessarily have to be simple. Sometimes simple is good, less is more, but not always, as Steve Bertrand shows on this excellent song.
Betrand goes off an a harder and more alternative edge on Glorious Collision which might take some getting used to for some listeners. The edgy, sometimes almost grungy vocals give the song a bit of a grim or eerie undertone. But Steve Bertrand wouldn’t be Steve Bertrand if he didn’t find a way to fit this into the song perfectly. With utter care and no doubt a need for perfection, the former Avion-frontman made this song stand out in its own account. The rougher edges give this song more body and the groovy, more alternative sound provide a platform to show diversity, without losing his recognizable sound.
The emotional Failing Forward shows Bertrand is not just a very good songwriter but an excellent singer too. The focus on his strong vocal performance makes this song and its lyrics stand out even more. The song gets quite dark and full at times, which might scare off the people who liked the light and poppy songs from the Avion-era, but there’s no need to worry for them as Bertrand continues with two lighter songs. Letterbox is a commercially attractive song, that could join Renting A Room on the radio in a heartbeat. The uptempo, catchy melody makes for a good sing-along and powerful rock & roll influenced popsong. Also the next song, Sell Out, the powerpop makes a fresh and catchy appearance and Bertrand shows he’s not just that emotional, personal approach singer/songwriter, but that he can also express himself in a way that is more open and accessible for the mainstream listener. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as he’s always been able to write the right hooks and play the right melodies, it just never really got recognized and embraced by mainstream media. Perhaps times can change this time.
Unfortunately we’re reaching the end of this incredibly strong solo debut, but with the sensitive and utterly beautiful ballad I Still Choose You, Bertrand leaves us with a smile on our faces. The album doesn’t really have many weak spots, but the final track on “Pain is a Megaphone” gets an extra star for excellence. It’s a song that takes you to places, makes you feel things and experience thoughts that are personal, sometimes painful, but most of all they are alive, just like the song itself. The bittersweet feelings reign and the combination of musical arrangements and Bertrand’s powerful vocals lift this song to a very very high standard.
Bertrand has always been a dominant force in his own way and while he has never gotten the recognition he deserves, this album can only be his realy break-through. The songs are very strong, and the delivery is full of emotion, passion, energy, and most of all Bertrand just gave it his all. The intensity and perfection that went into this record are an example to many bands and artists out there. “Pain is a Megaphone” quite easily makes it into a list of top records of the year. I, for one, cannot wait to hear what’s next for this talented musician.