Extreme II: Pornograffitti
A & M Records, 1990
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/08/1997
Pornograffitti came at the tail end of the heavy metal Roman empire in the late 80s and early 90s. While Nirvana would eventually slash the jugular vein of this beast, it was still an amusing era to look back on. I have to admit Cinderella's Night Songs is still one of my favorite CDs that's not on public display in my apartment.
Extreme was ridiculous: they had big hair, their lyrics came straight out of a ninth grade journal, but they were indeniably fun. Though Gary Cherone should be sending a royalty check to Paul Stanley, his voice lifted Extreme out of the wuss metal pits occupied by White Lion and Winger.
For slobbering musicians out there, guitarist Nuno Bettencourt gave a performance that was par none. His solos on "Li'l Jack Horny", "It 's AMonster" and "He-Man Woman Hater" were jaw dropping marvels. Even a staunch Velvet Underground fan would have to fight off the urge to pick up the ol' air guitar in Pornograffitti's best moments.
Pornograffitti already ranks up in my top ten "guitar" albums. What's truely great though about the album is the harmonies. The lyrics for "When I'm President" are more dated than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but the harmony play between Bettencourt and Cherone still are hard to resist. For full no-brain fun, Pornograffitti rarely disappoints.
Unfortuantely, the ever present power ballad did this band in. "More Than Words", a beautiful, minimal acoustic number made the band huge, but it only represented about a tenth of what Extreme could do. Any person who bought the album from hearing "More Than Words" on a soft rock station had to be shocked when the white boy Parliament nod "Get the Funk Out" came on. For the band, "More Than Words" is the song that will still get airplay. The rest of the album is either too innocent and poppy for the Tool-dominated hard rock stations or from the fact that many radio stations don't want to acknowledge that cheesy heavy metal were their bread and butter in the late 80s.
Aside from the funk experimentation, Extreme tried to cover other genres of music in Pornograffitti, with differing amounts of success. The Beatles influenced "Song For Love" has a nice sing-along appeal to it. Their nod to Sinatra lounge territory, "When I First Kissed You" fell flat though. Surprisingly though, that song came nearly seven years before the lounge fad broke out. For that weak moment, Pornograffitti was ahead of its time, savor the irony.
The rest of the album does show a great deal of age, as with most heavy metal albums. The Desert Storm flag-waving patriotism of "When I'm President" had me wincing, especially after hearing of all the civilians lost in that war. Cherone also seemed to be suffering from a inner personality crisis in Pornograffitti. In the title track, he damns our lustful nature behind a crisp whallup of electric guitars. But "Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?)" sounds like the exact song that Cherone would condemn.
Okay, I got a little too analytical with the group there. Like gangsta rap, lyrics take a full back seat for the sound. And few metal bands had the chops that Extreme possessed. Bassist Pat Badger and drummer Paul Geary were never far behind the spotlight that Bettencourt and Cherone shined in. And when they all were on the same level...damn. In "He Man Woman Hater", probably the finest song on the album, the chorus will be buzzing in your head like a double gin and tonic. "Sooner or later you'll be a he-man woman hater/it's inevitable," it's not Voltaire, but its something that you can't put out of your head, due to great musicianship.
Pornograffitti was a mini-concept album, which Extreme would embrace fully with their next release III Sides To Every Story. It's one of few concept albums that actually works. Most of the songs deal with sexual lust in one way or another. What makes it work though is the songs are so irresistable, it's addictive, just as sex is.
Other metal albums accomplished more than Pornograffitti. Albums like Metallica's Master Of Puppets, AC/DC's Back In Black and even Tool's Aenima have elevated heavy metal to new levels. What Pornograffitti did best though is show heavy metal at its most appealing and accessible. A pretty boy lead singer, a killer guitarist and harmonies straight out of the Beatles, it's a formula, though sadly dated, that Extreme had nailed down.