Extreme

Extreme

A & M Records, 1989

http://www.extreme-band.com

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/27/2014

The genre of glam metal isn't a particularly well-regarded one these days. It's seen by most folks as a genre for goofy nostalgia, crappy one hit wonders, and cheesy power ballads. For the most part, I completely agree with that assessment. But if there was ever a band that proved that this sort of music could have legitimate substance and aspire to greater things, it was Extreme. Their formative debut doesn't exactly provide a ton of evidence to prove that, but it gets things off to a fair start all the same.

Nuno Bettencourt's guitar work is fantastic right out of the gate. And while for the most part we get lots of Eddie Van Halen aping crossed with a bit of Brian May, he's already well on his way to developing his own characteristic style. He never holds back during his solos, and while lesser guitarists use their skills as an excuse for banal shred-fests, Nuno...well, his solos here are mostly shred-fests too. But they're melodic shred-fests! He's a guitar hero par excellence and the star of Extreme. On the mic, we have Gary Cherone, whose macho voice is well suited to the frontman role. He can belt it out with the best of them and would prove to be capable of conveying a lot more depth than might be expected from this sort of singer. Finally, holding down the rhythm section, the bass is handled by Pat Badger and the drums by Paul Geary. You probably won't see me reference them much in these reviews since they rarely stand out in their own right, but they consistently provide a rock-solid backing for Bettencourt's guitar to go nuts over.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The production here is handled by Reinhold Mack, most famous for producing Queen. I bring this up for two reasons. First, Extreme has an enormous Queen influence and Mack does a great job at bringing that to the fore. It's most prominent in the band's backing vocals, which are multitracked in the same way Queen was often fond of doing. The band immediately turns this into a trademark of theirs with this vocal approach being used liberally throughout this record, usually trading off lines with Cherone in the choruses. The bad news, however, is that Mack's production sounds extremely ‘80s in the worst way, and it makes for this record's biggest flaw by far. The glossy reverb slapped all over everything majorly dates this album, and the utterly cacophonous drum sound immediately makes me raise an eyebrow every time I press play. Each snare hit sounds like it's ringing out in the middle of an aircraft hanger. It's awful!

So they still had some kinks to work out in their sound. But are the songs good? Yes! More or less, anyway. Nuno's guitar playing is fantastic but there aren't many truly immortal licks to be found here, which leaves the vocal hooks as the main attraction. It does take some effort to dig the tunes out from underneath the production cheese, but once you get over that hurdle, most of these tracks reveal themselves to be pretty solid little pop-metal numbers. The songwriting isn't particularly ambitious and everything pretty much sounds the same, but the formula is an enjoyable one. I'm willing to get down with tracks like “Wind Me Up,” “Big Boys Don't Cry,” and “Kid Ego” any day as long as the tunes are as fun and catchy as these ones are.

There are some slower tunes here as well. And while they're mediocre, they're still a bit better than the average power ballad slop. “Rock A Bye Bye” is the more notable one. It drags on without much of a tune to speak of and features an ending instrumental section that goes on forever without building to any sort of climax. It's a failed experiment, but I still have to give them kudos for attempting it all the same.

Finally rounding things out, “Play With Me” closes the album on the band's highest note yet. It zips along at breakneck speed as Cherone rambles off the names of various games and toys, with Nuno's guitar effortlessly keeping up, throwing out quotes as far flung as Mozart and “Shave And A Haircut”. It's a ton of fun and still holds up as one of the band's best songs.

All the things that would make Extreme a great band are here, but they haven't quite honed their skills enough at this point to reach much higher than most other pop metal acts and the dated production holds this record back a lot. I can't hold too much against an album with songs as fun and catchy as these, but the band would soon do much better.

Rating: B-

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