REVIEW: Extreme – Waiting for the Punchline (1995)

scan_20170114EXTREME – Waiting for the Punchline (1995 A&M)

Sometimes you just gotta laugh.  Extreme released two of their finest albums after grunge wiped the slate clean.  Extreme were the punchline, but that didn’t stop them from making a smokin’ fourth album.  In 1992 Nuno envisioned the next album as “really funky”, and there is some funk here.  However Waiting for the Punchline was much more straight ahead: stripped down, no orchestras, no rap, just guitar rock through and through.

“There Is No God” sounds like an odd title from a band as Christian as Extreme were, but Gary Cherone has always been a lyrical champion.  It’s not as simple as it appears, but the groove just lays waste.  The next track “Cynical Fuck” turns it up further.  It is pure smoke, and perfect for the decade it was written in.  “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” takes the soft/hard approach with a loud droning Nuno riff.  It’s another brilliant song, and harder than what Extreme were doing before.  Much of Waiting for the Punchline is driven by the bass and drums.  The interesting thing about this is that drummer Paul Geary left during the making of this album, and was replaced by Mike Mangini who is now in Dream Theater.  You hear two very distinct drum styles through the CD.  Geary has a straight ahead approach, while Mangini is capable of just about anything.  His first track is the single “Hip Today” and you can hear how his beats are anything but basic.

“Hip Today” is a good tune and a good indicator of what the album sounds like: Bass, drums, guitar. Listen to how the rhythm guitar drops out when Nuno solos. Just like the first classic Van Halen. The lyrics sound bitter as Gary warns the next generation of bands that their time too will end.  Things slow down a little on “Naked”, before the side-ending instrumental “Midnight Express”.  This is a truly brilliant track, proof that Nuno’s stunning plectrum practice has paid off.   When it comes to acoustic guitar work in rock and roll band, Nuno is among the very best.  “Midnight Express” gives me callouses just thinking about it.

Dark moods commence the second side with “Leave Me Alone”, a sentiment many of us understand.  Don’t worry about me — I’m happy alone sometimes.  Nuno uses volume swells a-la Van Halen’s “Cathedral” to create a nifty riff.  Into “No Respect”, Nuno makes his guitar purr, while the rhythm section throws it into overdrive.  “Evilangelist” tackles the religion questions again, with a funky riff and cool digitized chorus.  The dark and heavy vibes give way to light shortly on “Shadow Boxing” and “Unconditionally”.   Both tracks are brilliant but different.  “Shadow Boxing” might be considered the “Hole Hearted” of this album, while “Unconditionally” leans towards “More Than Words”.  Neither are re-writes, but those are the easiest comparisons.

One final surprise is the unlisted bonus track.  It wasn’t on the cassette version, but you will find the title track “Waiting for the Punchline” after “Unconditionally”.  There are two cool things about this.  One: it’s an awesome track, much like the angrier stuff on side one.  Two: it closes the album even better than “Unconditionally”.  Great little surprise so don’t hit “stop”!

The thing about Waiting for the Punchline is that it’s a grower.   The first couple listens, I thought “It’s not as good as their old stuff, but what is these days?”  The new stripped down Extreme didn’t seem as interesting as the lavish one from Extreme III or the flashy one from Extreme II.  After a few listens, different textures began to emerge, add their own colours and depth.  Particular with the guitar work, but also the rhythms, there is much delight to be discovered here.

5/5 stars

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27 comments

  1. Yep, another great write-up and again concur. But I mean Cynical alone made this record essential and while not as fun as their previous outings WFTPL got just as much car-time fer this fan \m/

    4.5 from me but a 5 had they finished the album proper with the title track (ie had it’s own place in the track order) because it’s one of their best tunes period!

    Cheers Mike.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant. I think you just sold this to me, Mike. This could be my first Extreme album. I’ve said it a few times now, but I only ever knew the big single. Nuno flew onto my radar thanks to Satellite Party and I thought that guy could play… but still I’ve never explored what this band had to offer. Great stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Agree with u 100% Mikey…love the roughness of this album. No polish in site! Rock N Ruff! Great album …Cynical is one of my all time fav Extreme Tunes….
    Look forward to more reviews dude!

    Liked by 1 person

        1. If you can, see Air Guitar Nation. It’s just a feel-good doc about real people.

          Weirdly enough, the one guy in that movie David Jung (who wins the competition – spoiler) later went on to appear on American Dad as the character “Fung Wah”.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s a bit scary sometimes Mike, how much I read your reviews and think “Well. Strike that album from my list. LeBrain has put my thoughts into words. Damn him.” Stellar review for a stellar album. Very much the antidote to the engorged prog-feat that was 3 Sides (which I also love). Totally right about this album being a grower. I started listening to it again a couple of months ago, on a whim, can’t get the damn thing off my iPod now. Such dynamics, light and shade, aggression….. perfect for those who thought that Extreme were all about the “hit”!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree on every word, Mike. It’s such an amazing album and easily one of their best, very dynamic. It’s so awesome to find that I’m not alone in loving this record – and reading the comments here it looks like there’s quite a few of us out there.
    I still hold Pornografitti as their greatest album but this one is really close.
    Great Review and I look forward to your review of Saudades de Rock.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Saudades is an album I like more and more every time I play it. That review goes up tomorrow. I’m on an Extreme kick so I’m hoping to do a few more. I still have to review albums #1 and #3 along with some EPs.

      Like

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