mike mangini

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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REVIEW: Extreme – Running Gag (Japanese EP)

scan_20170112EXTREME – Running Gag (1995 A&M Japan)

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.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Extreme – The Best of Extreme: An Accidental Collication of Atoms? (1997)

Welcome to GREATEST HITS WEEK! This is an idea I nicked from Aaron over at the KMA.  (For his original Greatest Hits Week, click here!)  

All week, we will be looking at different (and I hope interesting) hits albums from various groups. Let’s get this one out of the way first though: the proverbial contractual obligation album!

Scan_20150804EXTREME – The Best of Extreme: An Accidental Collication of Atoms? (1997 A&M)

The best of Extreme? Perhaps, by some arguments, but the ball sure was fumbled, with this CD that fails to keep the attention from flagging.

The Best of Extreme (subtitled An Accidental Collication of Atoms?, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean) plays it straight, in a paint-by-numbers kind of way. Pretty much every song here is a single, though not many were very big singles. The thing is, like more respected bands such as King’s X (with whom they shared management), Extreme were about albums much more so than singles. First record aside, Extreme never failed to impress with a cohesive collection of jaw-dropping rock. So what happens when you take a record company suit (or a room full of them) and assign them the duty of picking a baker’s dozen of tracks for the requisite greatest hits CD? You get an accidental collication of atoms, apparently.

Opening with “Decadence Dance” was a great idea, but why leave on the rain storm and narration that opens the album version of the song? Why not use the dynamite single version? That intro makes little sense in context of a greatest hits disc. Great song, though — in fact every single song here is bonafied great! With the possible exception of “Kid Ego”, every track here was always of the utmost quality, delivering innovation and hooks. “Rest in Peace” – brilliantly produced, written and performed. “Tragic Comic” – just pure class acoustic rock as only Extreme deliver. Same with the massive hit “Hole Hearted”. “Hip Today” – still aggressive to this day. That was Extreme’s first single with Mike Mangini on drums, incidentally.

So you can’t knock the tunes, at all. It’s the crummy execution that’s the problem. The rain at the beginning of Decadence Dance is one such example. Then on “Rest in Peace”, the guitar outro that normally leads into “Politicalamity” is retained, but it ends abruptly and leads into nothing. That is sequenced into “Kid Ego” from the first album, which as an awkward transition. “Leave Me Alone” works better as a side opener.  There’s no reason behind the track listing that I can imagine. It’s not chronological, and it doesn’t flow well, especially when you hit 11 minutes of ballads right in the middle of the whole thing. The booklet is a joke, with no liner notes of any value. It’s just a slathering of images that has nothing to do with Extreme or any of their past albums.  Just lazy.  Nobody would even cop to compiling it by putting their name in the credits. The anonymous compilers are as faceless as the CD they created. The band had been broken up for a while, when Gary Cherone joined Van Halen. This was just a record company trying to squeeze a few more dollars out of a band that had little value in 1997 dollars.

There are two touches I like on The Best of Extreme. One is the “Horn Mix” of “Cupid’s Dead”. I don’t have this on any singles in my collection, so thank you, suits! (I know you included this remix just for idiots like me that would buy an entire CD just for one song. However the joke is on you. I bought it used from my own Bargain Bin.) It’s a killer remix. It should have been this way on the album. Maybe somebody said, “We can’t have too many horns! One has to go.” It’s also nice to see “Am I Ever Gonna Change” closing the CD. That “song” is actually just the middle section of “Everything Under the Sun”, the side-long epic that closed Extreme III Sides to Every Story. It was one of the more single-like moments from an album that offered few such songs. Fans have long said that it should have been a single, so it is interesting to hear it here, amputated from its parent song.

Unless you need that “Cupid’s Dead” remix, you don’t need this CD.

2/5 stars

EXTREME QUALITY CHART

Thanks to Geoff over at the 1001 Albums in 10 Years for the “Excel”lent inspiration!

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.

Most Unrightfully Ignored Albums of the 1990s – LeBrain’s List Part 2

In alphabetical order, here’s Part 2:  88 albums that meant the world to me in the 1990′s but never got the respect I felt they deserved.  

Dokken – Dysfunctional (reunion with George, adventurous album)
Steve Earle – I Feel Alright (jail obviously did him some good — his best record)
Steve Earle – El Corazon (among his best records)
Extreme – III Sides To Every Story (don’t get me started!)
Extreme – Waiting For the Punchline (a stripped-down oft-forgotten classic with Mike Mangini)
Faith No More – Angel Dust (…)
Faith No More – King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime
Fight – War Of Words (I didn’t like Halford’s followup effort but this one is brutally heavy)
The Four Horsemen – Nobody Said It Was Easy (it wasn’t easy, is why)
The Four Horsemen – Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By (but they released two great records in the 1990’s)

Fu Manchu – The Action Is Go (started me on my Fu Manchu addiction)
The Gandharvas – Sold For A Smile (my cousin turned me onto this one while I was in Calgary)
Halford – Live Insurrection (better than any of the live albums that Priest did without him)
Harem Scarem – Mood Swings (brilliant album, you can hear Queen influences, but it’s the guitar and vocals that set it apart)
Harem Scarem – Karma Cleansing (…now a bit more progressive, like progressive-lite)
Harem Scarem – Big Bang Theory (…and now, short and to the point!)
Helix – It’s A Business Doing Pleasure (too soft for the general Helix masses)
The Hellacopters – Grande Rock (the album Kiss should have made instead of Psycho Circus)
Glenn Hughes – From Now On… (anthemic and spiritual)
Iron Maiden – Fear Of the Dark (it gets a bad rap but it pretty much got me through 1992)
Journey – Trial By Fire (I don’t think they’ve ever made a better record to be honest)
Killer Dwarfs – Dirty Weapons (ditto!)