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[page in the process of being converted from MP3 status to full status]

Class ?

Main Category: Heavy Metal
Also applicable: Pop Rock
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of an Extreme fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Extreme fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1989
Overall rating =

Decent - but if school age sex is really about as fun as these guys proclaim, maybe it's a good thing to abstain?..

Best song: PLAY WITH ME

Track listing: 1) Little Girls; 2) Wind Me Up; 3) Kid Ego; 4) Watching Waiting; 5) Mutha (Don't Wanna Go To School Today); 6) Teacher's Pet; 7) Big Boys Don't Cry; 8) Smoke Signals; 9) Flesh 'n' Blood; 10) Rock A Bye Baby; 11) Play With Me.

First and foremost requirement: abstract yourself from the album cover. Look at it as if you weren't looking at it. Wrap it in a big brown bag that you just took off Lennon and Yoko's Two Virgins - I, personally, find the sight of these hairstyles much more disturbing - not too mention much less natural - than that of a guy and a girl's pubic hair. Here's ample proof that listening to what other people recommend you is not harmful and does not deprive you of your identity: were I to simply fall upon Extreme in a record shop without anybody backing me up on this, I wouldn't go near an album like this if you put it next to a stack of Brian Eno records (where, by the way, it actually belongs in record stores).

Fortunately, I didn't even have to, thanks to a little semi-legal thing called "MP3 technology". Besides, at a certain point I remembered that the hair metal look was, after all, initiated by Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth, and that's one band that no sane person ever judged by its looks. And it's only fitting that Extreme, perhaps the most ferociously fanatical Van Halen imitators and followers in the world, would copy that look and maybe even "improve" on it, in their own tacky Eighties way. And it's also a huge relief to learn that it wasn't just the looks they were copying either. I am, of course, no expert on Eighties' hair metal, and have no more interest in becoming one than in drilling oilwells or selling greetings cards, but I honestly believe that there can be no better emulation of the classic era Van Halen sound than the one offered by Extreme. In fact, in the beginning of their career Extreme were to Van Halen what Stevie Ray Vaughan was to Hendrix: the ones who went beyond mere adoration and copycatting, actually grasping the essence of the band in question so as to make something really worth hearing in the end.

It is, of course, no coincidence that a decade later, Gary Cherone would front Van Halen; true, he's nowhere near as sleazily charismatic as Roth, but he seems to be able to understand the concept of irony as applied to brawny cock rock, and, although it would be a stretch to call any of the album's lyrics particularly "smart", they are nevertheless strongly tongue-in-cheek, while the vocal delivery relies more on sarcastic snarl than on "fakely sincere" anthemic screaming. And that guitar player whose name I'm scared to even begin to transcribe? Why, he's a terrific Eddie imitator - granted, unlike Eddie, he didn't invent the hammer-on-tapping-blah-blah style, but that's about all I can put on him. His playing is innocent of all charges even by the highly demanding heavy metal standards.

Now if only the songs didn't suck, what a proud hair metal festival that would be. Okay, I'm being a leg-puller here. There's plenty of well-written songs on the album. Remember, this is pop metal, and if it's good pop metal, it means that you can play this stuff with an acoustic guitar and your friends will still be patting you on the back and yell 'whoopee!' instead of, under their breath, cursing the one unlucky guy who had this stupid idea of having you haul out your instrument in the first place, and consequently falling asleep. These songs do have pop hooks, and once you've extracted them from the metallic sludge, admired them in their naked beauty, then put them back inside the sludge and admired them fully clothed, you might even agree with me that this album is not all that hopeless.

One thing that is hopeless is the "thematic coherency" of the record. Unlike Extreme's later stuff, it is completely and perfectly targeted towards one single audience group: high school midteens. Okay, so I guess it would be more questionable if this hair metal product were oriented at eighty-year old grandmothers. But come on now, it's not that desperate a genre that in order to get it through, you need to impersonate a lazy, horny, pissed-off schoolboy all the way over eleven songs in a row, especially if you're out of the school age yourself. Just look at the fuckin' song titles: 'Don't Wanna Go To School Today', 'Teacher's Pet', 'Big Boys Don't Cry', how's that for a goddamn concept? Now Van Halen, they'd never sink that low.

Again, though, I'll just have to swallow it and move on. Now the highest praise you could lay on a hair metal band would be that they managed to write a listenable power ballad; this album's power ballad, 'Watching Waiting', isn't all that listenable, but doesn't reach the lower levels of my disgust-o-meter either, maybe because the boys get over it with admirably less pomp than is usually "required"; actually, the most pompous thing about it is Nuno's solo, and that one happens to be good - he's a first-rate solo guitarist, after all. So I can - and most certainly will - live my life without the song, but at the very least it does not topple the album's rating, and that, in my eyes, is a big achievement. The second ballad, 'Rock A Bye Baby', isn't even a power ballad - it's got no guitar until the pompous instrumental coda, just synths, strings, and wimpy McCartneyesque piano. Not extremely memorable, but kind of nice, and then there IS the coda, which is a bit too much for my tastes (reminds me of Brian May playing 'God Save The Queen'), but I've certainly heard worse genre exercises in my life.

Still, screw the ballads. It's the rocking material here which shows why it might be, in fact, appropriate to separate Extreme from the Great White Poison Zombie Of Def Whitesnake Leppard crowd of the day. For starters, the album opener 'Little Girls' (put that up your sleeve - next time you have to come up with a great trivia question, just ask "what do Extreme and Oingo Boingo have a common?", sit back, and watch yourself getting crowned Trivia Boss of the Day) features a prominent Southern-style harmonica over all the chuggin' riffage - how cool is that? Maybe you thought Kid Rock was the first to merge Southern rock with pop metal? (Please be the one to think that so I can trample you into the dust with an appropriately placed cliched phrase like) you got another think coming!

'Wind Me Up' - obnoxious, disgusting, more catchy than a venereal disease, gotta love it, gotta hate it. 'Kid Ego' - great riff, lots of head-spinning 'astral metal' guitar gymnastics that Nuno spills all around the studio. According to rumours, Gary has since all but disowned the number; this speaks well of Gary, in the long run, but under current perspective there's really no need to be ashamed of the tune. So the lyrics suck, but at least they're free from shiver-sending pun lines like 'oral examination is where I shine' ('Teacher's Pet').

Nuno gets his big break during the instrumental intro to 'Mutha (Don't Want To Go To School Today)', showcasing chops that could proudly stand their own against Eddie's any second of the hour; the thing, functionally at least, is pretty similar to Van Halen's famous 'Eruption', and was most probably a conscious reply from Nuno (although something tells me that every hair metal band with a semi-decent guitarist had to have some equivalent of that. Talk of an initiation ceremony or something). And 'Flesh 'N' Blood' must have directly inspired Alice Cooper's 'Feed My Frankenstein', although Alice has actually taken the "eat - fuck" metaphor to his usual level of gruesome theatrics that Extreme could never even aspire to reach. Still, there's more of that guilty-pleasure-type catchiness in the song's nursery rhyme chorus, and the 'eat your body, naughty naughty naughty' refrain has so far refused to leave this reviewer's head.

Now the album closer 'Play With Me', here's a great song. I mean, it's no big news to have metal musicians take their inspiration from Bach or Beethoven, but it's almost a whole different thing when they actually choose Mozart as a polygon - and Nuno's intro to the song is lifted directly off the "Turkish March". Later on, he gets another solo that's, literally, quite bedazzling, and actually goes way beyond anything I've heard from Van Halen himself. Don't get me wrong: I don't want to say Eddie couldn't play that if he'd want to... but then again, just how sacrilegious is it to suppose that ssh, shh, don't tell anyone but maybe he couldn't? Oh well, forget that. Whatever be, I'd just like you to know that this is the kind of speed metal that I actually enjoy much more than your average Slayer or Sepultura song - kick-ass and hooky at the same time? Finger-flashing solos that are actually melodic? I'll cherish this stuff even if I have to keep it along with my 'faggoty sellout' tag. Plus, for once, you get a lyrical flow that's not just tolerable, but actually interesting - the words come in jets and flurries like Gary's trying to outdo the 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' manoeuvre, and although the tribute is way too obvious, it still makes up for a funny Eighties update on the matter, only exclusively limited to names of popular games this time.

That said, Extreme is still little more than a typical "debut" record. High points aside, I find little reason to ever relisten to it from top to bottom - in fact, I feel like not relistening to it from top to bottom, because that might raise certain suspicions, like, for instance, the one that I actually endorse its "boys just wanna have fun" conceptuality. Nah. I'm too old, morally conservative, and close-minded to be anything of the kind. And besides, there's always that album sleeve to keep in mind.



Year Of Release: 1990

The one hair metal album to own if you only own one. See, hair metal's main problem was that all those bands like Poison were taking themselves way, way too seriously, forgetting how their main influence and ancestry - Van Halen - actually started out as a hip, ironic, self-mockin' outfit. And even those that didn't take themselves too seriously, like Motley Crue, just couldn't help but pander to the public's tastes anyway (which was, the dumber you look, the more records you're guaranteed to sell). On Pornograffitti, Extreme show that hair metal can be non-pandering, smart, sarcastic, and catchy in a way that I honestly don't remember seeing on any other record.

Now the majority of radio-listening people will probably forever identify the album with the sappy forever-on-the-airwaves ballad 'More Than Words' and thus approach it with an understandable five-story-high bias. I am thankfully free of that bias, and while I am somewhat baffled by the song's totally inadequate popular success (I mean, hey, what makes it better than any other song in its genre?), I would want to point out one fact that's always being neglected: it totally stands out of the generic Eighties power ballad mush because it is, in fact, NOT a power ballad. It's just an acoustic-only sappy love ballad, not particularly offensive all by itself, just somewhat forgettable. I remember it even being included in the VH1 "Top 20 Power Ballads" countdown or some other crap like that, but it's NOT a power ballad! It's like, I dunno, including 'You Never Can Tell' into a "Top 20 Rock'n'Rolls" countdown. But apparently if an Eighties' hair metal band does a ballad, it has to be a power ballad by definition. Anyway, back to business.

Pornograffitti (yeah, full title is Extreme II: Pornograffitti, so don't nitpick you bunch o' dumbasses) is actually a concept album about finding true love in an era of decadence and promiscuity. It's a great concept, too, totally befitting its era: in a certain way, it closes the Eighties just in time for Nirvana and company. Here, Extreme take a detached look back at all the excesses of the decade - primarily, of course, at money and cheap sex, because hey, that's what the Eighties were all about. (Well, then again so were the Seventies, but the Seventies had their own bunch of decade-summarizing records, so there). The produced effect is great - with lyrics ranging from decent to really cutting-edge, even Gary Cherone's brawl is kinda in place because you know it's all "parodic" to an extent.

Seriously, if you don't pay attention to the thing you're listening to, you might just mistake it for another crappy hair metal album. But you SHOULD pay attention! They gather together everything that's so ridiculous and cheesy about the genre and ridicule it in its own musical terms - and do so with enough melodic ideas and enough diversity to deserve your attention. Sure, for the most part it's their standard brand of funk-metal, but then there's also acoustic balladeering (you know what I'm talking about), acoustic folk ('Hole Hearted'), and even a not-too-lame throwaway into the lounge world of the Fourties or whatever decade 'When I First Kissed You' could be attributed to, replete with crackles and hisses and lyrics like 'my voice was so far, not quite Sinatra'.

Oh yeah, plus Nuno gets his speedy-classical-influenced-chop showcase on the intro to 'He-Man Woman Hater' - God could that guy really play. Well, okay, that was the epoch of Joe Satriani, too, but if you don't want to have an entire album of shredding to listen to, that little one-and-a-half-minute bit is enough to blow your head right off your shoulders.

Now as far as the funk-metal stuff goes, it's all pretty similar, and the riffs are somewhat hard to memorize, but since this is pop metal, you mostly get by memorizing the choruses. Like: 'Everybody decadancing, dancing to the decadence dance!' Or: 'If you don't like what you see here, get the funk out!' Or: 'It's a monster! It's a monster!' Or: 'Suzi wants her all day sucker! Suzi wants her all day WHAT?' If you've already heard the album, don't deny I've awakened some pleasant memories out there (even if you may think they're guiltily pleasant memories). Describing individual songs wouldn't help much anyway - they're all similar. Nuno gets a terrific rhythm going that keeps you juggin' and jiggin' around, and the Cheronevocoder bawls out all these... well you know. Hey, I even dig his ridiculous "rapping" on 'When I'm President' cuz it's fun!

Worst song on the album: 'Song For Love', because it really IS a power ballad (thankfully, the only one on here), and it's pretty anticlimactic because when you know they're finally gonna conclude the show with something sincere and non-ironic, they fall on the same rotten cliches again. Best song on the album: the title track, if only because of the powerhouse lyrical-and-musical attack combined - and want it or not, these lyrics are important, as finally someone has the guts to really speak against the trashy "fuck-everything-you-can-in-every-hole" commercial attitude of the decade. Yeah! Don't be afraid to get out and buy this stuff - it's "more than words" indeed. More than "More Than Words", too!


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