Gary Cherone- Lead vocals
Nuno Bettencourt- Guitars, background vocals
Pat Badger- Bass guitar, background vocals
Paul Geary- Drums
Extreme were one of the last gasps of talent coming out of the hair metal scene in the late Eighties, and boy, were they ever talented. In much the same way as Winger, Extreme were a rather ambitious outfit with an incredible degree of instrumental skill that died a really undeserved and unceremonious death at the hands of grunge knights like Nirvana, lumped in forever after with the processed-to-hell hair bands that everyone had grown to hate in less than six months within the release of "Nevermind."
Given careful listens, however, the immense skill that the band possesses becomes all at once very clear. The band has a major talent in the guitar department with Nuno Bettencourt, who is surely a riffmeister on a par with Van Halen, and whose lead skills are often breathtaking even to the jaded Shrapnel Records guitar-hero fans. The dexterity, looseness, and surprising originality with which Nuno constructs his always-grooving riffs never ceases to impress: the effectiveness of his style is literally jaw-dropping, as his sense of rhythm and his wonderful ability to come up with great variations on his riffs hits one's gut in just the right way.
This would mean nothing if the rest of the band weren't up to snuff. An examination of the lineup further illustrates just how Extreme were, in many ways, one of the most unluckily timed bands in rock history. For instance, Gary Cherone handles lead vocals: today he is reviled as the singer on Van Halen III, which can only mean more negatively-biased opinions of his original group. His work on this album, however, is always clever and thankfully refrains from the theatrical catatonics of the David Lee Roth school of hair metal vocalizations. Bass duties and drum duties fall to Pat Badger and Paul Geary, respectively, and both do an adept job at avoiding the kind of over-processed, over-worked tones and rhythms so many bands of the era suffered from: they are rather like Queensryche's rhythm players in that they consciously seem to avoid simplicity just for the sake of having something interesting to play.
And the album itself is the most important element of the unfair ordeal of Extreme, symbolizing perhaps in every way the band's total lack of luck. The album is named "Pornograffitti," and it is a concept album surrounding the theme of finding love in a decadent, over-politicized and sex-driven society. The very theme revokes much of what hair metal stood for, and makes Extreme's death at grunge's hands all the more undeserved. Worse even than this was the fact that the two major hits off the album were the acoustic songs "Hole Hearted" and "More than Words." Good songs in their own right, they were totally unrepresentative of the rest of the album and, despite the fact that the album went triple Platinum, word has it that many unsuspecting buyers were displeased with the abundance of sleazy, tough rock riffing that dominates the album. And finally, even the fact that the album sold 3 million copies was of no consolation to the band. By the end of their tour for their first album, the band, who had signed a typical hair-band deal with their label (in which the band owes the record company for all expenses in recording and touring), owed the record company oodles of money for the tour. There was no way to pay them back except to make another album, but of course the studio expenses for Pornograffitti caused them to plunge thousands of dollars deeper into debt. When Pornograffitti reached the peak of its sales, the band unfortunately had only just begun to break even with their label and earn profit of their own. When the scene came crashing down around them, their fame was cut off and they were left nearly penniless.
This album is truly a shining star of the era and the band that made it didn't deserve such a fate. It's a muscular, fantastic rock record that should go on everybody's playlist. Here's the track-by-track:
1.) Decadence Dance:
A fantastic opener, although a teeny bit overlong. Opening with the sound of falling rain and an electric piano, a grandiose mood is set as keyboard strings come in and a mother calls for her child. Clanking drum sounds fade in and a majestic, muscular guitar chord is strummed. Then the band comes in with one of many, many outstanding riffs that pepper the album. Nuno Bettencourt holds nothing back and just crams the phrasing into every moment, coming up with unbelievable fills that add a ton to the groove. Lyrically, the song is an interesting play on the materialistic tendencies of the U.S. citizen at the time, personified by the first line: "Tryin' so hard to keep up with the Jones'es." Nuno's solo is very interesting, moving through a chord progression that can only be described as "classical blues." Great stuff, and an oh-so-sweet verse riff to close it.
2.) Li'l Jack Horny
Opening with expertly tapped harmonics by Nuno, the decieving intro gives way to one of the best-grooving rock riffs I've ever heard. And plus, the band tunes down to C# for this tune. And they give those nu-metal guys a run for their money, because this just rawks. The chorus riffs are spectacular, and in a neat touch they have a horn section playing along with them. Another expert solo is rendered, as usual, Lyrically, the song is a fun ode to teen horniness.
3.) When I'm President
Opening with another tongue-in-cheek genre bend (this time a cute little rap), this song deals with the promises made by presidential candidates, including commentary on Reagan-era politics as asides. The groove of this song is further punctuated by neat hip-hop type touches, such as an awesome sequence in which Nuno simulates DJ scratching by rubbing the edge of his palm on the strings. Musically, the song is still very bluesy rock, with a ton of cool fills and another balls-to-the-wall solo: par for the course at this point.
4.) Get the Funk Out
Oh how awesome this song is. The album highlight by a long stretch, and featuring some of the album's most clever lyrics: an anti-censorship tune, the chorus goes "If you don't like/what you see here/get the FUNK out." This is quite hilarious, and serves as a kind of "Why didn't I think of that"" lyrical choice. The song sees a return to the horn section backing up the band, and the overall feel is truly funky and metallic, featuring utterly fantastic riffs and rhythmic variations that never cease to amaze. The breakdown riff is just great, followed by one of Nuno's flashiest solos on the album. The song just crescendos after that, with wah'd funk rhythms being playing by Nuno over the last few choruses, and an ending in which Nuno strums the guitar so hard that his strings break. Awesome.
5.) More than Words
A pleasent tune, this was the album's biggest hit. Featuring a fingerpicked chordal figure, slapped with a percussive effect, the song is vaguely reminiscient of a Latin ballad from the '50s. A love ode of the purest variety, the lyrics succeed in avoiding sappiness, and the song is actually quite enjoyable. The vocal harmonies in particular showcase Cherone and Nuno's vocal talent, a rare thing in hair metal.
6.) Money (In God We Trust)
Yet another fantastic Nuno riff opens this up, a truly catchy affair. Jesus Christ, the guy can play. Another political commentary on materialism, the lyrics achieve the feat better than "Decadence Dance" did. The solo is a shred masterpiece, with an unusual command of rhythms. My God. It's just too much by this point. Nuno is God.
7.) It ('s a Monster)
A phased guitar chord opens this, with an impressive drum figure. Yet another ANR ("Awesome Nuno Riff") is played. This song, like many of the others, is filled with what Nuno calls "hot space:" silent spots in between guitar breaks. The lyrics are a little confusing, but from what I can gather it's about drugs or something similar. Unfortunately, this song doesn't leave that much of an impression, chock-full though it is with great playing. The bridge in particular is a great rhythm work, and the solo is reminiscient of George Lynch's frantic dissonances and virtuosity. Tone-wise, there's not much to differentiate it from the other tracks.
This song has so many ANRs it's like Nuno has a whole goddamn well of fantastic riffs that he just grabs from. Ugh. The lyrics are similarly virtuosic and clever, focusing (as you can probably discern from the title) on the abundance of sexual imagery in the media (just think of how this song would speak to us in this day of "Real World" hot tub orgies). Nuno's capacity for awesome fills is not exhausted yet: there's an especially neat wah part that just makes me go nuts. Another great solo. Blah. Of course it's great.
9.) When I First Kissed You
A Sinatra-style ballad given an Eighties makeover, this song is a neat twist in the proceedings. The band's skill at emulating the harmonies and melodic makeup of classic Fifties sounds makes them rather reminiscient of Queen and appeals to higher levels of seriousness and cleverness than is the wont of your average hair-metal band. Further proof of their skill. The song itself suffers a little from weak lyrics, but the sound, clearly meant as more of a reference of culture than as an original work, really enhances the concept.
10.) Suzie (Wants Her All Day What")
I'm not sure what this one is about. I can read it either as the blatantly sexual topic it appears to be, or as a critique of the mind-numbing sameness of the pop-metal scene of the time, and the way so many people just ate it up. Chock-full of great riffs and solos as usual, this is just as good as the rest of the stuff.
11.) He Man Woman Hater
Ok, Nuno really owns the guitar community in this one. The song opens with his solo showcase, informally titled "Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee," and it terrified guitar players everywhere because of its truly insane speed of steady 16th notes--at 210 bpm! As it turns out, Nuno pulled a Vinnie Vincent on us and used a digital delay to repeat the notes and make what he was playing sound twice as fast as it really was, but who gives a ***" It's amazing, and I bet even if you had his exact delay setting you still couldn't pull it off. The actual song isn't much different from what came before it, but that doesn't mean it's bad. The quality of the songs on this album are so universally high that it's a shame that it can nevertheless get boring listening to it: if you listened to any of these tunes seperately chances are you'd think they were more awesome then they seem when listening to it all the way through. Great stuff though.
12.) Song For Love
A stellar power ballad, this song signals the close to the concept, an ode to love lost. An ambitiously arranged tune, with soaring harmonies, strings, and an active guitar part, the song contains many progressive rock flourishes that the band would incorporate onto their next album. Yet another great Nuno solo populates the middle of this, and on the whole this is one of the finest power ballads of the later era of hair metal.
13.) Hole Hearted
The second big hit off the album and the closer, this song features a really cool style: the blues-heavy riffing that filled the album, except on 12-string acoustic guitar. A great ballad with a nice coffeehouse feel, this is a really interesting and decent album closer. It fades out with the rain that opened the album.
This album is JUST shy of a five, because it can get tedious to listen to all the way through. Therefore, it gets a 4.5. But for all intents and purposes, you can consider it a 4.95, because in my opinion the album is essential anyway. Extreme didn't deserve the fate they got handed, and they turned out on of the finest rock records of the past two decades. If you are a fan of anything rock--great playing, riffing, lyrics, concepts, etc.--go out and pick this up now. You'll love it, I promise.