Extreme were one of those bands that always seemed to resist reuniting. Nuno didn’t seem interested, or was too busy with Perry Farrell and Rihanna. When they finally did get the band back together, they did it right with a few tours and a new album to prove they still had the goods. 2008’s Saudades de Rock (Portuguese for “Nostalgic Yearnings of Rock”) earned positive reviews from rock critics. It did moderate sales but the important thing was that it was good.
Immediately “Star” reminds us why Extreme were special in the first place: Those harmonies, the good time Halen-inspired riffs, the kick-ass singer and a solid beat. Gary Cherone’s voice has aged well, coming over as a cross between Sammy Hagar, Freddie Mercury and Paul Stanley (good company to be in). This song best exemplifies the “nostalgic yearnings of rock”, as the arrangement could have come from 1990. Extensive (jaw-dropping) solos and a big chorus immediately remind us why this band was so critically acclaimed 25 years ago.
It’s not all longing for days gone by. “Comfortably Dumb” concentrates its focus on the groove, like a bizarre cross between Soundgarden and the Trews. The space-age guitar work by Nuno Bettencourt separates it from anyone else. His style has matured nicely but still makes you wonder just how the hell he does it. His machine-gun guitar riff on “Learn to Love” does the same. It’s not all trickery: these are also great compositions, with challenging rock arrangements. Time changes and flurries of notes keep it interesting. The middle section gives all the members a little time to shine including new drummer Kevin Figueiredo.
The first knuckleball is thrown on “Take Us Alive”, a genuine electric bluegrass shuffle. Remember Extreme always prided themselves in their diversity, modeling themselves after Queen who were unafraid to do anything. “Take Us Alive” is a new step for Extreme who have never gone this twangy. Unsurprisingly they mastered this direction too. A saucy funk rocker called “Run” goes in another direction, akin to Queen’s own funky experiments, just heavier. Like Queen, Extreme topped it with a fine melodic chorus, but stay tuned for a superb outro.
“Last Hour” is not a ballad; more of a heavy dirge. Nuno takes a quiet solo full of volume swells before going full shred. He then rips a page from the book of his solo album with the punky “Flower Man” (I say “punky” rather than “punk” since few genuine punk songs have a blazing Nuno Bettencourt guitar solo). “King of the Ladies” is something else entirely, featuring Nuno on lead vocals. It’s trippy, slinky, drony, modern and sultry with smoking instrumental sections and sounds like nothing else you can think of. Few bands can take so many directions on one album and have it sound like a cohesive whole.
Every Extreme album has at least one ballad, and “Ghost” is a wonderful continuation of this tradition. With the focus on the piano, it’s a reprieve in the relentless guitar assault that makes up the majority of Saudades de Rock. You have heard this sound before on albums like Extreme III. We then visit the Houses of the Holy with “Slide” which possesses the unmistakable Zeppelin funk. You’ll be wondering, where’s that confounded bridge? The riff is a wink and a nod to “Sweet Emotion” and there is definitely some of that Aero-groove mixed with the Zoso Magic.
An acoustic reprieve is offered with “Interface”, a floaty ballad that fits this leg of the running order. It merges into the funk-Halen of “Sunrise”, a nice heavy track before “Peace (Saudades)” takes us out on a dreamy, Queen-like ballad. Yes that’s a lot of ballads late in the game and on paper it shouldn’t work. It does because Extreme are consummate balladeers (each one being different) and successful composers of album-length works with a start, middle and ending. “Peace” is a triumph and uplifting finale.
There are two bonus tracks available at the end of different versions of Saudades de Rock. Both are old demos from the vaults, ancient relics of a pre-fame Extreme. It’s a cool idea to release old unheard songs as bonus tracks, though unorthodox. “Mr. Bates” (1986) is exclusive to Japan only. It’s something like seeing old baby photos, or highschool yearbook grad pictures. You wince and think “Well, they were young.” Even so young, Nuno obviously had more talent than the average bear. Europe got the better song “Americocaine” (1985), which shows off that blend of Gary and Nuno’s voices that, one day, would earn them millions. You could imagine “Americocaine” showing up at the end credits of a minor 80s action movie.
Extreme played to their strengths, didn’t try to repeat anything from the past, while giving fans exactly the kind of album they needed. The bonus tracks don’t fit, but who says a “bonus track” has to fit? These are bonuses in the truest sense. Rare little treats you can’t find anywhere else. Any fan of the 1989 debut album Extreme will love them, because that is the era they resemble.