[28 August 2008]
Remember that silly VH-1 show Bands Reunited, and how the host got totally shut down by Nuno Bettencourt on the proposition of reuniting with the other members of Extreme?
Well, someone’s got a nice helping of crow now that the celebrated funk-metal band has reached a most unexpected reconciliation and recorded a brand new album—this following Extreme’s surprise reunion performance in August 2007, delivering a new composition, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Man”, at a tribute concert for the late Boston singer Brad Delp.
Though perennially tagged as “hair metal”, Extreme were more of a glam-tastic, East Coast extension of the funky LA-based alt-metal scene that spawned Jane’s Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Saudades de Rock will remind you why you liked such albums as 1990’s Pornograffiti and 1992’s ambitious III Sides to a Story despite the heckles of your wanna-be-hip grunge pals. In Bettencourt’s native Portuguese, the album title translates to “Nostalgic yearning for rock”, and Saudades sates the group’s desire to remind folks that they were far more dynamic a band than the “hair metal” stereotype out-of-touch journalists and media pundits handed down to them in the ‘90s.
Heavier and more confrontational than anything the band has ever done, Saudades de Rock finds the group in peak performance after a decade-plus hiatus, their last album the 1995 A&M swan song Waiting for the Punchline. Of course, as always, the star of the show is guitarist Bettencourt, setting such tracks as “Learn to Love” and “Flower Man” on fire with his lightning-quick six-string precision.
There isn’t a more underrated guitarist in hard rock than Nuno, who managed to combine the grandiosity of Queen’s Brian May, the soul of Eddie Hazel, and the complexity of Frank Zappa with equal aplomb. Having found the most post-Extreme success of all four members (excluding original drummer Paul Geary, who left the group in 1994 and was replaced by former Annihilator drummer Kevin Figueiredo), Bettencourt has proven over the last few years why he was the catalyst for the band’s unorthodox approach to classic American glam metal. His recent collaboration with Perry Farrell on his ill-fated Satellite Party project (which sounded so much better on paper than on record, truthfully) and his quixotic work on the soundtrack to the 2008 Thomas Hayden Church/Dennis Quaid/Sarah Jessica Parker/Ellen Page indie dramedy Smart People all kept his chops in the picture. And while his late ‘90s solo career saw him return to his humble beginnings playing podunk dive bars to sometimes fewer than 20 people at a clip, songs such as the hard-driving, Pink Floyd-title-aping “Comfortably Dumb” and the slithering Zep-funk of “Run” show that Bettencourt wants to sell out arenas again, or at least amphitheatres, and dazzle audiences with guitar skills that belong right up there in recognition with that of Kirk Hammett and Eddie Van Halen.
Speaking of which, singer Gary Cherone appears back on top of his game after recovering from the folly that was Van Halen III and his utterly forgettable solo band, Tribe of Judah. Vocally, he’s never sounded better, especially on tracks like “Learn to Love” and the bluesy “Last Hour”, which find him in clear voice, his pitch-perfect rasp reaching soulful heights akin to the likes of James Dewar from Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs band. But he really soars on the ballads, including the gorgeous “Ghost” and the hushed album closer “Saudades (Peace)”, which rivals the beauty of “More Than Words” and is, dare I say it, as lovely as any of the softer moments off Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky.
In this era of Viceland-ish postmodern irony, it certainly is deemed far cooler to wear on old Extreme shirt out on the town in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, than it is to listen to their new record. But whether you are a hair metal holdout who considered Cherone and the boys to be the closest you’ll ever come to listening to alternative rock, or a total rockist snob terrified to admit that “Kid Ego” is in heavy rotation on his or her iPod to your buddies at Sound Fix, one simply cannot deny the strength of Extreme’s new material on Saudades de Rock. I’ll take this over the new Walkmen album any day.