Of Extreme’s five studio albums, there can be little doubt that Extreme III is the most ambitious. It is a sprawling set over 80 minutes in length; too long for a single CD. So long that only the cassette version has all 15 tracks in one place. In contains three distinct sides, each different from the other, countless styles, and an orchestra. Extreme took what made them popular on the last album, and what was currently going on with grunge rock, and tossed it all out the window. They followed their own direction and were not rewarded with sales, but something more important: a masterpiece.
The first “side” (keep in mind this is a CD) is subtitled “Yours” and consists of rockers both hard and funky. After a comedic intro, “Warheads” annihilates the speakers. A short choppy riff blows in, tempo opened up wide. Gary Cherone tries to keep his messages entertaining, and this anti-war anthem has a pretty obvious message. Nuno Bettencourt joins him for the choruses and breaks for a cool neo-classical solo. The same message carries over into the first single “Rest in Peace”, introduced by a string quartet playing the song’s melody before Nuno kicks it with a funky riff. During the solo, Nuno even quotes Jim Hendrix. “Rest in Peace” was not an immediate single, it takes some growing. This is true of the whole album. There is a lot going on. Even that little Hendrix lick — blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s there making the solo that much cooler. It is worth mentioning that Extreme did a fantastic video for “Rest in Peace” based on a 1952 National Film Board of Canada short called “Neighbours”. This wordless film served as the blueprint, but as a result they got sued and had to change it.
Gary Cherone loves creating his own portmanteaus (“Americocaine”, “Pornograffitti”), so “Politicalamity” is the title of the third track. It’s a wah-wah soaked funky rocker with fully-loaded horns making their first album appearance, in the tradition of “Get the Funk Out”. Lyrically it continues the anti-war theme dominating the first side, and also social injustice, but in a fun catchy style. “Rich and poor, salute your country’s colours. Less is more, When one oppresses the other.” That was 1992; I wonder what Gary would have to say about today? Racial equality dominates “Color Me Blind”, one of the hardest rockers on the side. “I had a dream last night, I was blind, and I couldn’t see colour of any kind.” It is possible that the lyrical tone of the album turned off some old fans, though Gary keeps things from getting preachy.
“Cupid’s Dead” is the only song on the first side without a serious message. This rap-rock hybrid features a guest rapper (John Preziosa Jr.) and a chugging, funky riff. Hard rock bands who incorporated rapping were seldom successful, but Extreme dodged this bullet. “Cupid’s Dead” is good enough that is was recently dusted off for the Pornograffitti Live 25 tour. Drummer Paul Geary and bassist Pat Badger keep the funk rolling in heavy fashion. The side-ending “Peacemaker Die” features Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, surely some of the most powerful words in American history. It is difficult to not get the chills when Dr. King speaks, framed in this excellent funk rock lament.
Take a moment’s break here and pretend you’re flipping a record. Side two is subtitled “Mine” as a contrast to “Yours” for side one. “Mine” consists of six ballads, but only five are on the CD due to the 80 minute time restriction. Nuno expressed regret that the sixth track didn’t fit and hoped one day a 2 CD edition would be released. Still hoping!
“Seven Sundays” is a romantic song, a piano ballad with Gary in falsetto mode. Nuno adds synth strings for textures. “If I had one wish, it wouldn’t be hard to choose. Seven Sundays in a row, because that’s the day that I spend with you.” Quite a turn from “Cupid’s Dead”, but that’s why it’s on another side. “Tragic Comic” was the natural successor to the hits on Extreme II, a fun acoustic track with a “Hole Hearted” beat. The lyrics are clever comedy and the track was selected as a single. Many will identify with the hapless romantic, the titular stut-tut-tuttering p-poet. “And when we dine, I forget to push in your seat. I wear the wine, spillin’ it all over my sleeves.” Been there done that Gary! The lighthearted song is a delightful contrast to the darker material on side one.
Van Halen-style volume swells make up the intro guitar melody of “Our Father”, an electric power ballad with some stunning six-string mastery. “Stop the World” was chosen as a single, a light melancholy ballad reminding us that if we forget history we are bound to repeat it. These serious songs were not destined to repeat the big singles of albums past. When you play these songs, you feel things and you think things, and not everybody wants music to do that to them. Nuno’s solo on “Stop the World” is warm, immaculate perfection. “Stop the World” merges directly into “God Isn’t Dead?” (except in single form of course). “God Isn’t Dead?” is the darkest spot yet, quiet and painfully plaintive. Piano and orchestra paint a stark picture.
The final song on the side, and a hint of the daybreak ahead, is “Don’t Leave Me Alone”, which is only on the cassette version. Fear not however; it can be found in CD form on CD singles. Just rip everything to your computer and slide “Don’t Leave Me Alone” into the correction position in the running order. It belongs here at the end of the “Mine” side. It deliberately ends it on a brighter note than “God Isn’t Dead?” though it is still far from a good-time ballad. It is dusky lament, but with hints of light in the tunnel. Nuno’s moog solo is a treat.
At 12 songs, the “Yours” and “Mine” sides would make a complete album on their own, and it would still be an ambitious project at that. Regardless, the third side titled “& the Truth” is the most industrious of them all, an eager fulfillment of talents bursting at the seams. III Sides to Every Story…”Yours”, “Mine”, “& the Truth”. This time, the side is made up of one massive 22 minute song called “Everything Under the Sun”. It in turn is subdivided into three parts. This is where the orchestra really comes into play.
Part I, “Rise ‘n Shine” is the sunrise after the blackness of the second side. Gentle acoustics rouse you from your slumber, and Nuno takes the first verse of this duet. Gary follows on the second as the orchestra swells. “Rise ‘n Shine” is the most hopeful sounding music on the album, a bright and steady composition brilliantly structured. Daniel and his dreams may be a Biblical reference but they don’t have to be. A brief interlude foreshadows the melody of Part III, but first is Part II, “Am I Ever Gonna Change”. This section was chopped out and used as an individual song live and on compilations. You can hear why, since it has that echoey Van Halen guitar lick and a powerful nut-kicking chorus. The orchestra returns and it’s Extreme at full power. This eventually fades into the quiet start of Part III, “Who Cares?”. Inaudible voices whisper during a piano passage, and then the orchestra returns at maximum. Biblical overtones: “Tell me Jesus, are you angry? One more sheep has just gone astray.” Nuno’s singing is run through a vocoder giving him a computerized voice. Some might think it sounds like The Elder gone wrong, but that would be selling “Who Cares?” short. Finally Nuno breaks out of the circuit boards and come in at full voice for the final choruses. The melodies from “Rise n’ Shine” and “Am I Ever Gonna Change” are reprised as the epic piece finally comes to a close.
There is little debate that “Everything Under the Sun” is the grandest thing Extreme have attempted in the studio. It was a successful experiment, as it remains interesting and engaging through its entire 22 minute length. You cannot say that for every Rush song of that nature.
Unfortunately for Extreme, the timing was all wrong, and this album soon found its way in bargain bins at cut rate prices. The good news is that means you can get a copy yourself for next to nothing. Try also to track down copies of the “Stop the World” or “Tragic Comic” singles, in order to get the full package. They are plentiful on sites such as Discogs, and it’s important to hear the album at its full complete length. III Sides to Every Story is an unsung hard rock masterwork, and if you want some softer rock songs with lots of brains and a huge heart, give it a shot.