Gary Cherone

REVIEW: Extreme II – Pornograffitti (1990)

EXTREME II – Pornograffitti (1990 A&M)

1990:  Everybody was buzzing about the sophomore album by Boston’s Extreme, and their stellar lead guitarist Nuno Bettencourt.  Extreme II: Pornograffitti (“A Funked Up Fairytale”) is one of the last great hair metal albums of the era.  It is chock full of diverse songs, great playing, great writing, and adventurous arrangements. Big kudos must of course go to Nuno whose guitar playing is at once tasteful and (pardon the pun) extreme.  Not to be outshone is lead vocalist Gary Cherone who was at his peak here.

EXTREME II_0007A loose (very loose) concept album, Extreme II commences with atmospheric rainfall, which introduces us to “Francis”: our protagonist and the kid on the front cover. The crashing licks of “Decadence Dance”, the first single, interrupts this moment.  Gary’s lyrics are witty and Nuno’s fingers nimble.  The song kills.

There is a wide swath of styles covered on Extreme II. Obviously funk is a big one (“Get the Funk Out” with a blazing horn section, “When I’m President”, the title track.)  Of course there are the landmark acoustic ballads “More Than Words”, “Song For Love” and “Hole Hearted”. The cool thing about this trio of singles is that all three ballads are different.  None of them share the same style as well.  “Hole Hearted” is more a campfire rock song than a ballad anyway.  While “More Than Words” is now considered the prototypical acoustic ballad, it must be remembered that when it came out, it was unlike most. It contains no drums and only one acoustic guitar. Gary Cherone’s vocals merge harmoniously with Nuno’s creating this lullaby effect.

Other interesting songs include the lounge tune, “When I First Kissed You”. I once read Nuno saying that his inspirations were Queen and Prince, artists who were fearless to include different styles on their albums. Meanwhile, “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee” contains some of the greatest and fastest guitar soloing of any era. It doesn’t get much more diverse than this withoug losing coherance, but Extreme II holds together as a concept and an album.

The album is filled out with killer hard rockers: Songs like “Suzy Wants Her All-Day Sucker” and “He-Man Woman Hater” are some of the catchiest rock songs this side of Aerosmith, but are tricky enough to keep your interest peaked. By the time the album ends, you’ll be exhausted from rocking out so much, but you’ll still want to start over again from the beginning.  The album appears to be designed that way, since it closes with the same rain and thunder.

This is a must-own classic for any hard rock fan who likes it smart.

5/5 stars

Once you absorb this album, you have to pick up the following companion pieces:

1. The “More Than Words” and “Hole Hearted” singles, which contained different remixes of “More Than Words”, one being A Capella with congas.

2. The “Song For Love” single, the B-side of which was Extreme’s amazing cover of Queen’s “Love of my Life”. Incredible cover, which was designed to segue into “More Than Words”.  They did it this way when played live, as they did at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.

3. The Guitars The Rule the World (the first one, not Vol 2).  This has a Nuno Bettencourt electric blues instrumental called “Bumble Bee (Crash Landing)”.  This is the second part to “Flight of the Wounded Bumble Bee”, which on the album was trimmed down to exclude the “Crash Landing” portion.   When I recently ripped this album to my computer, I used Audacity to recreate the original complete “Bumble Bee” track.  I dropped the file into the correct place on the album to create an “unedited” Pornograffitti experience.   It was kind of cool how it worked, segueing into “He-Man Woman Hater”.

Part 217: My F****** Neck!!

NECK

RECORD STORE TALES Part 217:  My Fuckin’ Neck!

Kids – do not crack your neck.  Don’t do it.  I know it feels good.  Just don’t.  I know the feeling, the release of pressure.  The sudden relaxation of the nearby muscles.  The temporary but instant relief from pain.

I used to crack my neck, apparently a bit too much, and by early 1996 it had caught up with me.  I was about to go out for lunch at Casey’s with an ex-girlfriend of mine.  We’d started to hang out again.  I thought there might be a chance of getting back together, so I was looking forward to it.

I was toweling dry my hair, perhaps applying a bit too much force on one side, when suddenly:  snap.  Something hurt.  Something hurt a lot.  I collapsed to the ground, cradling my suddenly-too-heavy head in my hands.  I’d experienced neck pain before (which started me on cracking it in the first place), but nothing like this!  I was completely immobile.  I sat like that, in pain holding my head in my hands, for 15 minutes.  Finally I was able to find a comfortable way to stand up.

I took some Aspirin, and collapsed again in the stairway.  I literally could not take both hands off my head without being in extreme pain.  I had to be holding my head with at least one hand at all times.  I considered cancelling the date with the ex, but quickly dismissed that option.  The perceived opportunity for pity outweighed the physical pain.  Now all I had to do was figure out how to put on my boots.

The ex arrived to pick me up, and she advised me to see a doctor.  Nahh!  I said.  I took an Aspirin.  Doctor Schmockter.  I did know that, feeling the way I did, there was no way I was going to put able to pull a 4 hour shift at the record store that night.  All that bending over and filing…one handed?  No.  Even though I was very proud of my perfect attendance record (no sick days in almost 2 years, a milestone I wanted to reach), I had to call in sick.  I felt the pain of my now tarnished sick record.

We sat down at Casey’s, and I stupidly ordered French onion soup.  Only when the dish arrived did I realize how hard it was to get the spoon all the way to my mouth without leaning.  Leaning equaled pain, but by moving slowly and steadily, I gradually ate the soup.

I had a heavy scarf around my neck, and the warm soup going down my throat felt great too.  Plus, the painkillers were kicking in.  My mood brightened by the time my chicken arrived.  When I had finished that, my sore neck muscles began to loosen up.  I was regaining some mobility.  Plus, the lunch was going splendidly!  Conversation was brisk and good humoured.

“You know what,” I said to the ex, “I think I’m going to work after all.”

“Are you sure?” she queried.  “Your neck looks really stiff.”

“It is,” I replied.  “But it’s Wednesday.  It’s a slow night.  New stock arrived yesterday, Trevor would have finished stocking everything.  I’ll be OK.”  Plus, I was digging the new Extreme and wanted to hear it again.

Mike Mangini on drums

I excused myself to go to a pay phone and call the store.

“Hey man, it’s Mike,” I said when my boss answered.  “Have you got anybody to fill my shift yet?  Because I can do it.  I feel alot better.”  He told me that he was just going to work straight through.  I assured him I was OK, and I got the ex to drop me off at the store.

I walked in, head cocked at an awkward angle, wearing a silly scarf.  My boss was with a customer but he glanced at me, noting my odd posture.  As soon as he was done with the customer, he turned to me.

“Oh, Mike…how in the heck did you do that again?”

Slightly embarrassed I answered, “Drying my hair.”

“You did THAT drying your hair?” he cried.

“Yeah,” I said sheepishly.  “Does it look bad?  Can you tell?”

“Can you tell?” he replied.  “It’s as obvious as the nose on your face!”

Oh man.  Oh man.  I didn’t realize how comical I looked.  Sure enough, several customers asked about my strange posture.  And all of them had the same question:

“How in the heck did you do that?”

Drying my hair!  Now leave me alone about it!!

Unfortunately this was merely the first of many such episodes.  A high price to pay, for the temporary relief of cracking your neck.  I should have just said it was whiplash from banging my head too much.

Part 186: The Van Halen Tin

RECORD STORE TALES Part 186:  The Van Halen Tin

March 17, 1998.  The wait was over – Van Halen 3 was out!

Van Halen’s 3 was kind of like The Phantom Menace for me:  I was really excited about it, so much that it clouded my judgement of the music.  I wanted new Van Halen so bad I would have taken just about anything I guess.  Just like I would take Phantom Menace the following year.  T-Rev, always the level-headed one, questioned whether I was enjoying the album more simply because of the absurd money that I had paid for it.

I paid $45 for the “collector’s tin”.  I was hoping for bonus tracks, but there was nothing like that.  A pick, a tin, some paper stuff, a sticker.  It was still pretty cool to look at, and collectible.

I was living with T-Rev at the time.  I was and still am very “OCD” about my CD collection.  I don’t lend discs out anymore for example.  Back then and today I am very fussy about the condition of the album.

A day or two after Van Halen came out, our buddy Neil came by to play N64 and have a beer.  I was working the night shift that night, so I didn’t get in until after 9.  When I came in, I played some N64 with Neil and headed off to bed.

The next day I woke up and wanted to play the new Van Halen.  I grabbed it off my CD tower, and noticed something…not right.  A fingerprint!  On the tin!  I could see it!  But it wasn’t mine!  Before I filed it, I distinctly remember wiping the tin.  It had no fingerprints!

When T-Rev got up I asked him, “Hey, I know you wouldn’t have done it, you know me too well, but did Neil happen to look at my Van Halen 3 yesterday?”

T-Rev grinned and asked how I knew.  I explained the fingerprint.

“The funny thing,” said T-Rev, “is that I told Neil you were going to notice if he touched it!  He didn’t believe me!”

Trevor assured me that Neil was very careful with it, and didn’t touch the CD itself, etc. etc.  We couldn’t help laughing at the fact that I did notice.  That’s the OCD!  I had a lot invested in that Van Halen disc, emotionally and monetarily.

Listening to it today with fresh ears, it’s not the disaster that some (cough cough Craig Fee cough) think it is.  But it’s certainly not worthy of the praise that I gave it back in ’98.  If it were an Extreme album, it wouldn’t be the best Extreme album.  As a Van Halen album, well…

NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES…A Day In the Life (VIDEO BLOG!)

REVIEW: Van Halen – 3 (1998 collector’s tin)

Welcome back to the second installment of our Van Halen two-parter review.  Last time we talked about the Can’t Stop Loving You singles.  Today, we’ll be discussing the controversial Van Halen 3, with a special emphasis on this neat but overpriced collector’s tin.

Van Halen – 3 (collectors’ tin 1998)

In this day and age, bands always release different editions of albums, to jack up the price and hopefully also sell multiple versions to the same buyer.  Today we get bonus tracks, entire bonus CDs, or a DVD to get us to pay a higher price.  In 1998, at least with this Van Halen album, we got nothing of the sort.  We got paper, plastic, and tin, but no extra content.  It is bonus content that gets me to pay the higher price, normally.  Throw on exclusive music and the collector in me salivates.

Before we get into all that, let’s talk about Van Halen 3, the album.

Fact: Van Halen shot themselves in the foot when they went through the whole Sammy-quit-now-Dave-is-back-no-he-isn’t thing. I remember watching the MTV Awards in 1996, and thinking that Dave being back in Van Halen was about the best thing that had ever happened.   And then when I found out that Gary Cherone was lead singer?  Hoping for the best, fearing for the worst.

I’d been following Cherone for years, and his touch on Extreme’s III Sides To Every Story was absolutely sublime.  But even though both Extreme and Van Halen had a penchant for flashy solos and the odd ballad, it just didn’t seem like the right match.  Cherone was a spiritual and political lyricist, nothing like the party animal of Hagar nor the ringmaster of Roth.

Van Halen 3 was as complex and mature as you could have hoped, which is fine, but it also sounds decidingly unlike the band Van Halen. And vocally, something is wrong. Listening to this album, Cherone is not singing in his old style. He’s shrieking, pushing his voice to the breaking point, and sounding unfortunately a lot like Sammy Hagar, confusing the fans even more. On top of that, when I played the album I noticed right away that something didn’t sound right with the band itself. Turns out, I was right — Michael Anthony only played on three tracks. The rest was all Eddie on bass and backing vocals.

Van Halen 3 (still don’t really get the name) is a semi-triumph for the band, in certain senses. It is long, mature, diverse, progressive, and paradoxically it is also similar to 1984, soundwise. It has a similar coldness…like a chill was in the room where you can hear Eddie’s amp humming away. “From Afar” is so spare and epic, one can only wonder what would have happened if it was on 1984.  Elsewhere, Eddie’s warm synth has returned on tracks such as “Once”.  The guitars have that warm-amp fuzz to them that you just can’t fake with pro-tools.

Yet it is only a semi-triumph. As much as I want to like this album, I have to admit, these don’t sound like finished songs. Aside from my “highlight” songs (below) a lot of the tunes sound like they’re only half finished. As if Van Halen were songwriting amatures, and this is an overindulgent and underplanned demo tape. Eddie’s guitarwork is great, as always, but much of the time it sounds like he’s just jamming with himself. While this is fantastic to listen to from a technique point of view, you’re not humming the riffs an hour later, like you can every time you listen to Fair Warning or even Unlawful.

My highlights (not including instrumentals):
“Without You”
“One I Want”
“From Afar”
“Once”

Other songs, like “Ballot or the Bullet” just barely hang together.

The album especially stumbles when Eddie takes his first lead vocal on the smoky barroom ballad “How Many Say I”. The song is no good and Eddie can’t sing lead.

The best song, and the most Van Halen-like, wasn’t even on the album. “That’s Why I Love You” appeared on early promos, and should have been the single, but was dropped by Warners in a monumental error of judgement. If it had appeared, and if it was the first single, the fate of this album would definitely have been different. Track it down. You’ll see what I mean.

The tin itself is nice.  It has the Van Halen 3 cannonball guy printed on it, the VH “globe” logo printed on the back.   Incidentally, the CD inside is unique.  The regular retail edition did not have the checker pattern or the “circus” Van Halen logo.  If you’re buying one of these used make sure you’re getting the correct CD with your tin.  Also make sure it’s not scratched.  It is stored in a paper sleeve prone to this.

         

Inside are a pick (a pink one?) with VH logo, a 3 sticker, and numerous pieces of slotted card paper with pictures on them  Some pictures are of the band, and some with just a “3” theme.  The band photos are pretty cool.  It almost looks as if Van Halen were a real band at the time!  Some of these paper cards have lyrics and liner notes too.

The slotted paper cards have instructions that you can assemble them in a number of unique ways.  Never having done this before, I took this review as the opportunity to try it.  Fun??  No, not really.

Rating:

3/5 stars for the album

2/5 stars for the tin

Coda: 

I thought while we’re at it, let’s also take a look at the “Without You” promo CD single.  It contains a 4:57 edit (album version is 6:28 so a significant edit version).  It is mostly notable for its packaging:  A clear red case, giant puffy 3 sticker stuck to it, and a Van Halen logo sticker in the upper right corner.  The CD is designed to look like a 3″ single.  Definitely worth tracking down for collectors who love unique looking discs.