Waiting For The Punchline


A & M Records, 1995


REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso


Extreme’s 1992 disc III Sides To Every Story may have been the band’s greatest triumph, but commercially, it flopped hard. Perhaps it's no surprise that the record purchasing public wasn’t looking for prog rock epics from the band that gave them “Kid Ego,” but the times had changed as well. The public's tastes experienced a massive shift since the decade began leaving Extreme sounding quite behind the times. So they were faced with a choice. Either stick to their guns at the risk of commercial failure, or make some drastic changes in the hopes of hitting it big again. Sadly, they took the second option, losing most of their soul in the process.

This album could hardly be confused with the likes of Pearl Jam or Nirvana, but the change in style to align more closely with grunge and alternative rock is immediately apparent. The production is dirtier, and they've eliminated the ambitious streak that made their last two albums so interesting on a conceptual level. The drums sound distant and boomy, quite unlike what we're used to from Extreme. Another big change is that the funk the band was so fond of dabbling with has almost been completely eliminated. Their rhythm tracks were never particularly complex before but everything is played so straight and without flavor here that the band's playful streak is all but lost.

However, all these changes could easily be forgiven if Bettencourt's guitar licks were still up to snuff. But they aren't at all, and for a band so dependent on guitar playing that is an absolute death knell. It's apparent right off the bat with “There Is No God.” There are almost no lead lines until halfway into the song. Nearly the whole thing consists of bland rhythm parts that just about anybody could have played, and that holds true for huge portions of this record. The verses of “Cynical” are clumsy as hell, with guitar lines that sound improvised providing awkward counterpoint to a weird bass part and an unappealing melody. “Something I Don't Already Know” has barely even a single riff to speak of. Kurt Cobain may have been able to make slamming chords and noisy simplistic guitar parts work for him, but this is Nuno Bettencourt we're talking about here! He played “Decadence Dance” for God's sake! “Hip Today” improves things somewhat in the verses, but the chorus is just more boring slamming chords. Most of these songs my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 do still have their share of solid guitar moments. But moments are all they are. And almost all of these moments are reserved for the spots where Nuno should rightfully be shining: the guitar solos. These solos may not quite reach the level of non-stop melodicism that they used to, but they're still the best part of every song they feature in.

“Naked” is a nice change of pace, with a more bluesy feel than anything Extreme has tried before, and it does have a pretty neat riff during the chorus. But why is Gary Chreone running himself so ragged on the vocal performance here? That's actually a common problem on this album. Presumably to fit with the new grungy-vibe, Cherone has made an effort to toughen up his vocal performances. But his voice was tough and powerful to begin with, so it sounds like he's pushing himself beyond his capabilities and losing control of his voice in the process. He doesn't do this on every track but if you ever wondered how he went from one of the greatest hard rock vocalists of his era to the guy who sang on Van Halen III, this record provides the missing link.

“No Respect” epitomizes the album's flaws. Again, a cool solo saves the day (actually it might be the album's best), but it can't salvage the ugly as hell guitar tone during the verses. And the sorry excuse for a chorus is just Cherone yelling “No respect” over and over getting more grating each time. It's easily the worst vocal performances on any Extreme song to date.

It's usually a bad sign for an album when the least typical song is also the best track, but that doesn't change how fantastic “Midnight Express” is. The Nuno that's so sorely missing on the rest of the record is here in full force. The backing track is oddly static which wasn't the best choice to make in my opinion but everything else blows me away. It helps that the song is entirely an instrumental guitar showcase (played acoustically no less), but Nuno doesn't just solo. He provides verses and choruses with his guitar that are more tuneful than anything Cherone sings on the entire album. The last couple tracks are surprisingly decent too, even if they aren't anything to write home about. But they are a welcome respite from the rest of the album all the same.

With the exception of “Midnight Express,” few of these songs are fit to stand alongside even the weakest tracks on their previous records. This album finds Extreme compromising every strength they possessed in a last-ditch attempt to regain their former success. Unsurprisingly it failed miserably and effectively killed the band.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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