NUNO – Schizophonic (1996 A&M)
Man, the 1990s were hard on rock bands. Those that could not survive broke up and fragmented. Those fragments metamorphosed into new and sometimes interesting configurations. Image changes, name changes, hair cuts…rock artists did whatever they had to do to make a living. Even the talented ones.
When Extreme fell apart in 1995, it was obvious that guitarist Nuno Bettencourt wouldn’t just disappear. Instead he re-emerged on his old label A&M with a 90’s-style stripped down album and a single moniker: “Nuno”. With Nuno dressed in drag on the front, there was nothing to indicate that this was the same guitar wizard who made jaws drop just six years prior.
Writing, singing and playing virtually everything himself, Nuno’s solo debut Schizophonic was received coldly by some fans. With 15 short and basic pop rock tracks and ballads but running over an hour in length, Schizophonic is a chore to finish in one listening session. All the flavours of 90s rock are present: drony riffs, drum machines, and distorted vocals with a de-emphasis on instrumental finesse. The first track “Gravity” possesses all of these qualities, but also has Nuno’s knack for melody. You can all but hear him and Gary Cherone harmonizing on it. Shame that never happened because this could have been a great Extreme track. “Gravity” is not bad, but there certainly is a sensation of the potential for more.
“Swollen Princess” is a great track. Real drums, less distortion, and Nuno’s way with a melody make it a much better recording. You can see why a guy like Nuno had to try and be more anonymous in the 1990’s. If this track was on a new band’s album, it could have been a pop punk hit. Put it on an album by a guy from an 80’s hard rock band, and nobody was going to pay attention. Some will also enjoy “Crave”, a very very very 1996 rock song with light verses and hard choruses. Sounds like Nuno was listening to a lot of Weezer. Great song, but not for everybody. I also dig the Spacehog-like “Got to Have You”.
“What You Want” will be skipped by many. It adapts the riff for “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley into something new and noisy but not especially appealing until the mellow chorus. “Fallen Angels” is all loops and programming; not enough groove. “2 Weeks In Dizkneelande” is a cool title, exposing a heavy fast grunge-punk-thrash hybrid. Nuno’s drumming on this is quite impressive actually, and his brief guitar solo smokes. The shredding on this album, what little there is of it, is still impressive. It’s just in shorter, more diverse spurts.
Gary Cherone co-wrote a couple tunes. “Pursuit of Happiness” is a nice, folksy song that would have been a good single for Extreme. It has the same campground singalong quality that they had success with before. “Fine By Me” has a similar singalong quality, in the guise of a pop rock track a-la the 1990s. Cherone also co-wrote, and sings on “You” which is as close to Extreme as we were going to get at the time. As a singer, Nuno is fine, but Gary is a real vocalist. Having them together on “You” is a return to the sound that made them famous.
It’s a bumpy, uneven ride. The worst track is the electronic rock of “Karmalaa”. I know — he should have named it after Kamala, the Ugandan Headhunter. I can’t help but think of “Karmalaa” as a frantic, poor-grade Adore outtake by the Smashing Pumpkins. The other contender for worst track is the closer “Severed” which might answer the question, “What would Weezer sound like if they were an electronic band?” Not good. “Confrontation” is slow and forgettable, though not without its moments. “I Wonder” is a tender, thoughtful song, but just not good enough. There’s some tasty talk box on “Note on the Screen Door” but not enough of a song to go with it. That’s the problem with Schizophonic overall. There are instrumental thrills, some great parts and melodies here and there, but not enough cohesive, memorable material.
It’s a hit and miss affair. I had one customer, Shane, who never trusted my opinion again when I told him it was good. Buy at your own risk.