You’ve read it here before, and we’ll repeat it again: Japan gets the best stuff!
While the UK got the regular CD single for the song “Unconditionally” (four tracks), Japan called it the Running Gag EP and added a fifth track. Due to various chart regulations in the UK, singles had to have four or less tracks to qualify. Meanwhile, Japan seems to love releasing exclusive EPs and Running Gag is one such exclusive that Extreme fans will want to hunt down.
Extreme’s fourth album, 1995’s Waiting for the Punchline, was as much a treat as the prior albums. It was as different from them as they are from each other. This time, they went raw and stripped down. You can usually hear only one guitar track at a time. “Unconditionally” was the closing ballad, a fantastic song presented here as an edited remix. Mike Mangini was added on drums, and you can hear slight differences from the album track. Had the year been 1991, they would have had another hit on their hands. Fans who know the song will recognize it for its heart and charm.
Three live songs with Mike Mangini on drums are the real treat of the set. (He gets a chance or two to really smoke.) “Am I Ever Gonna Change” from Extreme III is the middle part of their side-long epic “Everything Under the Sun”. It worked well enough as a standalone song to be released as a promo single, and to be played live. For the live situation, Nuno souped up his guitar solo. Without the backing orchestra the album version has, it’s a very different sound. Such is the danger of recording an album that is difficult to reproduce live.
The two tracks from Waiting for the Punchline sound more at home on stage. “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” (the Japanese exclusive) and “Naked” have a mean, catchy vibe. Extreme were one of very few hard rock bands that adapted their sound well to the grunge onslaught. These songs are not “grunge”, but they represent a step in that direction. The songs have more bite, more bass, more groove. The solos are sparse, though Nuno puts his foot to the gas pedal when required. Without sounding dated Extreme simply pivoted just so into the 90s, but it sadly didn’t equal sales.
The final song is a studio ballad, “When Will it Rain” which has a vague Wings sound crossed with smooth Extreme balladeering. It’s actually quite a great little bonus track. Its quaint 70s qualities might not have fit in well on the original album, but hopefully you will have a chance to hear it in your travels.
Good little EP, just shy of great.