Saturday, August 23, 2008

Album Review - Extreme

Extreme - Saudades de Rock

Thirteen long years have passed since their last album... which no one really listened to, anyway.  But, being the ridiculous Van Halen fan that I was, I went out and bought all four of their past albums in 1997 just to get to know my favorite band's new lead singer - Gary Cherone - and all the work he'd sone up to that point.  In that time, I gained an affection for Extreme's unique brand of ironic, entertaining, and sometimes-brilliant good-time pop-rock.

And now, without any warning - or publicity of any kind (that I've seen, for that matter - I really only found this because I stumbled across it by accident in the recesses of iTunes' "rock" section) - Extreme pops out a new album.

In all fairness, Saudades de Rock (roughly, Portuguese for "Yearning for Rock") is a pretty decent record.  The quality of its songs is closer to 1992's III Sides To Every Story than 1995's Waiting For The Punchline...  The ironically boisterous vocals and music we've come to know from the band are harder to find here, but they're not completely gone.  The guys have grown up and been apart for the last decade and it shows. But (with the replacement of only the drummer) this feels like a bit of a rebirth for the group, which makes any short-comings a bit more forgivable.

But there are a few stand-out tunes:

Comfortably Dumb - an obvious play on a popular Pink Floyd song, but rocked-out and a lot more fun.  This track takes us back to earlier Extreme songs that would use a pun in the title and just play off of that.  It's a fun, kinda mindless rock song.  It means nothing.  Just enjoy it.

Run - with a curious, meandering main guitar-riff, and a chorus-riff reminiscent of The Black Crowes' "Soul Singin'", this track rocks pretty steadily from beginning to end, but it's the power chorus that will lift the listener off his feet.  Another lyrically-superficial track, it's just got a great guitar part and the harmony vocals in the chorus make this one of the most powerful (and one of my favorite) tracks on the album.

Flower Man - the most lyrically-accomplished track on the record, this song is in the vein of the 1992 track, "Peacemaker Die" (from III Sides) in that Cherone takes the ironic guise of the devil's advocate, bitching about how misguided and ignorant the "flower man" is, suggesting - in the face of giving "peace a chance" - that "liberty is a well-armed lamb."  This song rocks hard, is masterfully-structured, politically- and morally-relevant and a ton of fun.

Interface - a heart-achingly tragic tune about the strain of a waning love all explained through the eyes a nerd and his relationship to an out-dated model computer.  Despite the half-assed, barely-clever computer themes, the song's progression ebbs and flows gorgeously and we're also given a powerful chorus that will get stuck in your head for days.  "Interface" is a classic Extreme sing-along that, although it surely won't be giving "More Than Words" a run for its money, is still  worth its salt as power-ballads go.

There are also a few honorable mentions:

Star - the album-opener is a no-nonsense tune about the curse of celebrity, with powerful three-part harmony vocals and some brutally forceful guitar-work from Nuno Bettencourt.  If you want loud and aggressive Extreme, this is your track.

Take Us Alive - a southern-fried, very up-tempo, hill-billy pop-tune is peppy, fun and extremely tongue-in-cheek... and very well-done.  Visions of sheriffs, outlaws and old western gunfights can easily dance in your head throughout this one.

Ghost - this one is similar in feeling, initially, to some sort of piano-pop that Keane might be expected to turn out.  Modern and yet timeless with a driving pre-chorus, "Ghost" is a tale of the haunting regret of things left unsaid.

But the album could easily have done without tracks like Last Hour, Sunrise and Peace (Saudades) - all boring ballads that just never stand out enough to be included here.  Learn To Love and Slide are very similar funk-rock songs that just never do anything interesting or very fun.  And King of The Ladies, a completely ridiculous and mind-numbingly immature, mid-tempo rocker is sung by someone who is not Cherone. (Perhaps Nuno, which reminds me of the once-in-a-while Joe Perry-sung track on the occasional Aerosmith album - unnecessary but acceptable once in a blue moon.)

Although the newly-reunited band scores only three stars for this almost forgettable album, I would recommend that - for anyone who owns at least three previous Extreme - Saudades is a must-have.  Otherwise, just sample some of the good tracks and see if you're into them.  Most people aren't, but... hey - their loss.  And with all the kids playing Guitar Hero video games and jumping on the retro-fueled Extreme-bandwagon (thanks to the feature of 1989's "Play With Me" on the original game) you might as well check it out.

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