Paul Geary

REVIEW: Extreme – III Sides to Every Story (1992)

scan_20170129EXTREME – III Sides to Every Story (1992 A&M)

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.

extreme-dont-leave-me-alone-tragic-comic-single

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.

5/5 stars

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

scan_20170114-3

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!

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”.