Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Nuno Bettencourt Discography - Part 1 - Extreme

A couple of posts ago I said I was going to tell you all about Nuno's career, so here goes.

Before he went on to bigger and better things, this is where Nuno started. How awful do they look? But it was the mid 80s, so I guess we can forgive them. no official album releases but they seem to have a few tracks on myspace for your listening pleasure.

The album cover of the first Extreme album is almost as bad as the promo shot of 'Sinful' but there are some quality moments on this album. Here they saved the best for last. The thumping sound that accompanies the instrumental parts of the closing song on the album, "Play with me", is the sound of thousands of jaws dropping. The faint scratching noise that follows is the sound of a thousand guitarists wondering 'how the [various expletives] can he do that?' If you've never heard it, track it down and listen in wonder to the birth of a master guitarist.

Extreme II: Pronograffiti
This is where Extreme hit the big time. 'More than words' was a huge hit everywhere, but most of the really good guitar work is in the songs that weren't released as singles. While this album is pretty much 'of its time' (its time being just pre-grunge, when real rock music was dying) it does stand up pretty well today. There's a lot of emotion packed into it and you're carried along on a rollercoaster ride from anger, through lust (in fact, most of the major 'deadly sins' are represented here) to a more satisfying conclusion of love. Did you ever notice that 'More than words' isn't a love song? Its a song about a teenage bloke trying to persuade his girlfriend to, erm, do it. But when we've trawled through all the baser parts of the story (and this is definitely a whole album story) we end up with 'Song for love' and 'Hole hearted' which speak of the need for love rather than just gratification. See? There's more to this album than you thought there was... Actually, I think I like this album better now than I did in the early 90s. And after this masterpiece, Extreme went on to produce another:

Extreme: III sides to every story
I loved the review in 'Q' magazine for this album. The opening line was along the lines of 'This is Extreme's first album since they became the new Queen...' - a follow up to Brian May's comment at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, where he introduced Extreme saying that 'more than anyone else, these guys know what Queen have been about for all these years' (or words to that effect). And there is something of the spirit of A night at the opera in here in terms of the sheer scope and scale of the album. From heavy rock to acoustic pop to all-out prog-rock epicness, this album has it all. In buckets.

This album has stood the test of time. It wasn't really 'of its time' at all and so hasn't aged as much as most of the rest of the Nirvana-inspired rock that was around at the same time. As with most of Extreme's catalogue, there is a lot of searching for love, meaning and direction in the world - some big themes are touched upon in songs like 'God isn't dead?' and 'Rise and shine' quotes heavily from Ecclesiastes and the words of Jesus from the bible. This album is great on a musical level, an emotional level and a philosophical level (although it only asks big questions and doesn't attempt to answer them), and I still really like it.

Extreme: Waiting for the punchline
This is where, in my opinion, it all went wrong for Extreme. They tried too hard to be different from the previous album. Lots of folk (like me) liked 'III sides' but Extreme lost part of their former fanbase with it as it wasn't as raw and rocking as their first two albums. So they tried to return to 'raw' for Punchline. In some ways the last album was Queen-inspired, whereas this one was far more Zeppelin in its influences - Its darker, less polished and a bit dirtier. It has a few good tracks, but much of it is filler material - especially when compared to the quality of the two previous albums. I bought this when it first came out, but it soon ended up in the bottom of a cupboard, not to be listened to for the best part of a decade.

When I recently rediscovered it (while adding most of my CD collection to iTunes on my computer) I was stunned by the instrumental 'Midnight Express' which is track 6. It is, quite possibly, the finest guitar instrumental in rock. Few guitar solos can hold my attention beyond the first minute, but this is four minutes of outstanding acoustic playing. Perhaps it is most memorable because, although it features no lyrics, it still seems to fit to the verse / chorus / bridge pattern that we are used to in conventional songs. I defy anyone not to be impressed by it!

Extreme changed drummers for this album but, rather oddly, kept their old drummer as manager. I'm sure this must have introduced some tensions into the band which ultimately lead to them splitting a few months later. Disappointing sales fo the album probably didn't help either. Extreme had had their time.

Next up was a solo career for Nuno (to be in a future post) while Gary Cherone went on to a decade of not being quite sure what to do with himself. His only album release since Extreme is 2002's "Exit Elvis" by 'Tribe of Judah' which maintains some of the spiritual overtones from Extreme but not much of the musical quality, sadly. Last year he released an EP of songs of reasonable quality, but with no musical direction. It seems he needs Nuno far more than Nuno needs him! In between all this he has played both Jesus and Judas in versions of Jesus Christ Superstar in the states.

I suspect an Extreme reunion will happen eventually.



At 1:40 pm, Blogger Chris HH said...

I love "Play with me." That's how I discovered Extreme, after thinking "WOW! I must get that track," after hearing it in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" [So I guess that should be "Woh! I must get that track, Dude!"] As I recall it's the scene where all the historical characters trash the shopping mall. Classic! Great scene. Great film. Awesome guitar playing.

III Sides is also one of my favourite albums. And as for Punchline: "I bought this when it first came out, but it soon ended up in the bottom of a cupboard, not to be listened to for the best part of a decade." -- Ditto!!

You asked about other great guitar players (Although I think this was in another post). My all-time favourite guitar-legend is Gary Moore! And my favourite album of his is "Blues Alive" -- Next to Joshua Tree I think it is the album I have played the most. So much I own it in three formats: Tape, CD, VHS.

The raw energy and passion of one of rock's finest fret-masters combined with the emotional content of blues is a heady mix. Moore doesn't just play guitar, he communicates with it. It's not the technical mastery that blows you away, although he is awesome, but the intensity of the emotion conveyed through the guitar. He plays it as if it were an extension of him. I can't praise this album highly enough. The fact that it was recorded live without any studio trickery just adds to the jaw-drop factor. If you love good guitar-work it is a must!


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