When viewing the career of Boston-based rock ‘n’ rollers Extreme, you find that the band’s greatest successes were on Billboard‘s Album Rock chart, where they regularly scaled the Top 40, from their self-titled debut album through their fourth release and swan song, Waiting for the Punchline. The band blended the heavy metal stylings of the day (the late ’80s) with the Beatles and Queen, throwing in a little bit of funk and even a little bit of dance, with the occasional ballad to slow things down.
“Occasional ballad”, of course, translates into the biggest hit of their career, “More than Words”.
If that self-titled debut album found them gradually breaking out of the traditional metal mold, then the subsequent disc, 1990’s Extreme II: Pornograffiti, found Extreme throwing away said mold without leaving a trace. As Simon Glickman writes in MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, their “sophomore effort . . . caught the ears of reviewers and discriminating rock fans; with its hard-hitting yet thoughtful rock — a mix of prog-rock virtuosity, feel-good funk-rock and power-pop sweetness — the album demonstrated the group’s potential.”
When compared to Pornograffiti and its two Top Five hits (“Hole Hearted” and the chart-topping “More Than Words”), 1992’s III Sides to Every Story was a commercial failure, with no song making any substantial chart headway. Still, Extreme deserves a certain amount of credit for not putting out an album full of “More Than Words” knock-offs; III Sides To Every Story was a concept album in three parts, with the single, “Stop the World”, having the feel of a minor rock opera in its own right.
1995’s Waiting For The Punchline proved even less successful than its predecessor, and, basically, that was all she wrote for Extreme. Guitarist Nuno Bettencourt went on to release a solo album, then formed the band Mourning Widows; vocalist Gary Cherone went on to replace Sammy Hagar in Van Halen for all of one album; drummer Paul Geary had arguably the greatest success of any member, managing Godsmack to significant success.
As with virtually all volumes of A&M’s 20th Century Masters series, no real attempt is made to fashion a definitive career retrospective of the band; indeed, as the disc’s liner notes reveal, only one track contained within was not a U.S. chart hit of some fashion (“Tragic Comic” being the sole exception). As a result of this format, the disc’s focus is inevitably steered toward Extreme’s greatest commercial successes: Pornograffiti and III Sides to Every Story; Extreme and Waiting for the Punchline warrant only a track each (“Kid Ego” and “Hip Today”, respectively), serving as bookends to the collection.
And, as with many other volumes of the 20th Century Masters series, it’s a bit difficult to figure out why it exists at all.
Some folks (all of them fans of the band, admittedly) would argue that this so-called Millennium Collection is but a pale imitation of An Accidental Collision of Atoms: The Best of Extreme, which came out on Interscope Records a relatively short while ago. Those folks would be completely accurate, as An Accidental Collission of Atoms contains every single track from this Millennium Collection disc, plus a few more for good measure (“Cupid’s Dead” (Horn Mix), “Leave Me Alone”, and “Play with Me”, if you’re curious). Oddly missing from both compilations is “Song for Love”, which was a top 20 hit in the UK and which received a fair amount of airplay on U.S. album rock radio as well.
So, to sum up, The Millennium Collection is worthy of purchase if you want to save a few bucks, since it’s cheaper than An Accidental Collision of Atoms. Otherwise, though, if you’re an Extreme fan looking for something you might not have heard before, don’t waste your time; you won’t find it here.