Review Summary: Great solo effort by ex-lead guitarist from Extreme, Nuno Bettencourt. A consistent display of musicianship and sense of melody and rhythm that takes elements from grunge and alternative rockSchizophonic
was released in early 1997 by Nuno Bettencourt, who got to be known for being Extreme’s lead guitarist from the mid eighties until 1996, when that band broke up, and Nuno decided to pursue a solo career. I find this album interesting for many reasons. First of all, it’s important to note that Extreme was a band closer to hair metal in the likes of Van Halen, which makes Schizophonic
stand for a radical shift in Bettencourt’s musical universe. It’s impressive to discover the musical direction he was adopting towards the end of Extreme, since it seems he’d been working on Schizophonic
for several years. Second of all, I believe this album provides a rather refreshing transition from hair metal, glam rock, trash and heavy stuff from the late 80’s, to alternative rock from the late 90’s. No wonder Bettencourt took inspiration from grungier sounds and adopted a more aesthetical approach to music, in order to accomplish this transition. And third of all, this album really sets forth Bettencourt’s musicianship and vision, since he wrote most of the songs himself and played ALL the instruments in the recording. Of course, regarding the guitar work, nothing less could be expected from a guitarist of Bettencourt’s caliber, but what is really striking is what a talented drummer he is, while also putting out some solid bass lines.
Now let’s concentrate on the music. Throughout the album Bettencourt displays a more than decent singing voice. It doesn’t necessarily excel in versatility, but it covers the different tones that singers usually adopt in the post grunge-alternative rock genre. From the grunge-like radio-voice start of the opener Gravity
, reminiscent of Stone Temple Pilots’ Dead and Bloated
, to the frenetic screaming of the aggressive 2 Weeks in Dizkneelande
, grunge vocalists’ influence is pretty clear. In songs such as Confrontation
and I Wonder
, Bettencourt displays a cleaner voice, in the likes of Silverchair’s Daniel Johns or Fuel’s ex-vocalist Brett Scallions. The lyrics, however, are clearly not Bettencourt’s strong point. I’m not saying the lyrics suck, but, as it is the case with A LOT of alternative rock bands, most of the songs seem to mobilize random imagery and unoriginal phrase construction, vaguely referring to recurring topics such as difficulties with love and women, mother, father, loneliness; and incredibly enough, he even managed to write a song (Confrontation
) about Superman, Robin Hood, Jesus and Abraham Lincoln, which otherwise is a good one. Notable exceptions are Crave
and 2 Weeks in Dizkneelande
, in which the lyrics cleverly manage to evoke something about insanely desiring some girl in the former, and in the latter about being sexually abused by a deranged step-father in a trip to Disneyland. But it ultimately doesn’t make a difference for me since I rarely take interest in the lyrics of an album, as long as the music is good.
And it definitely is the case for Schizophonic
. The first two tracks of the album are strong grunge statements, as it is shown by the heavily distorted guitar riffing in Gravity
, and Grolhesque drumming in Swollen Princess
is one of the strongest points of the album. After giving it many listens, one will realize that, as I felt it the first time I heard it, it is NOT a Sum 41 cover, but rather a well constructed song that in my opinion shows somehow Pixies inspiration. Bettencourt’s drumming is slowly precise but very…“hard rocking”, as it can be heard during the guitar solo, in which the Brian May influences can clearly be felt. What You Want
is, I believe, a song closer to Bettencourt’s past with Extreme, in which a soft chorus is crushed by heavy metal guitar riffs and a great bluesy solo. Then comes Fallen Angels
, an interesting experiment by Bettencourt that mixes chill-out electronics and bass with an oriental feel in the chorus, accompanied by funky guitars.
2 Weeks in Dizkneelande
is my personal favorite (along with Karmalaa
), because of its grunge drums and guitar, along with Bettencourt’s frenetic vocals, you can really feel the craziness taking over. After that, there are the two weakest songs of the album. Pursuit of Happiness
, a nice and relaxing (token?) acoustic song that has a country feel to it, but seems too cheesy for me, and doesn’t really manages to take off. Same with Fine by me
, while not an acoustic one, it makes me think of Foo Fighters’ weakest efforts. Karmalaa
, on the other hand, is really a masterpiece. I find to be really innovative in the way in which the drumbeat and the electric guitar melt together during the verses, and explode in an incredibly catchy chorus. The drum fills and the riff before the funky-electric guitar solo are really impressive. It makes me think of Steve Vai’s Attitude Song
is maybe the catchiest song of the album, with its chug-chug-chug clean guitar accompanied by a conventional drum pattern. While the lyrics are totally incoherent and meaningless, it plays the role of the (token?) “rainy day sad song” very well.
The three following songs are slightly weaker than the rest of the album. Bettencourt’s formula gets a bit repetitive, even if the songs are more than average in my opinion. Take Note on the Screen Door
for instance, it has great rhythm thanks to that haunting bass line during the verse and the guitar’s atmospheric sounds. But then comes the chorus and the power-chord/melodic-singing thing gets tiring. I Wonder
is a soft rocker, with clean atmospheric guitar sounds and a strong vocal effort by Bettencourt. Got To Have You
is however an average song. It doesn’t properly suck, but doesn’t bring anything new to the album since one already understood a few songs ago what Bettencourt’s ideas where for Schizophonic
, in other words, it’s a filler. The last two songs on the album ARE average songs in comparison to the others. You
is a chill-out random love song featuring vocals by Extreme’s ex-singer Gary Cherone. And Severed
is a mix of this chill-out style Bettencourt started to explore with Fallen Angels
and alternative hard-rocking.
Those last two songs should have been replaced by two Schizophonic
b-sides I picked up that are really good: Garbage
and especially Hop the Train
In all, Bettencourt does for most of the album an excellent job, with some weak average moments, but doesn’t really suck in any of them. The guitar work is outstanding in absolutely all the songs, even the average ones. One can perceive Bettencourt’s will to detach himself from blues-rock guitar riffing and soloing that has taken over mainstream rock music. Elements of funk and jazz can be felt in his work. He has an amazing sense of melody and rhythm, which I believe has allowed him to put out such an interesting album, far from his hair metal days and without entirely adopting alternative rock either.
For people like me, whose musical universe revolves around Nirvana, Oasis and Metallica (to put it in a very simplistic and summed-up way), this is the kind of album that makes one wonder how can so many years have passed by without ever knowing about the existence of such a great piece of work (I’m saying this because I just picked this up a few months ago). Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is a groundbreaking masterpiece, far from it. But I do believe it’s a rather refreshing addition to my musical collection, and a great way to expand my musical universe by discovering an artist, but most of all an album, that almost exactly corresponds to what I like listening to. And it’s all the more impressive since it’s been out since 1997. For these reasons, I will give this album a 4.