Extreme (Pat Badger, Nuno Bettencourt, Gary Cherone, Paul Geary)

TRACKS: 1—Decadence Dance; 2—Li’l Jack Horny; 3—When I’m President; 4—Get the Funk Out; 5—More Than Words; 6—Money (In God We Trust); 7—It(‘s a Monster); 8—Pornografitti; 9—When I first Kissed You; 10—Suzi (Wants Her All-Day What?); 11—He-Man Woman Hater; 12—Song For Love; 13—Hole Hearted.

RELEASE DATE: August 7, 1990

TAGS: Rock, Horrible, Indecisive, Fuggeddabowdit

RATING: ★☆☆☆☆

Although this is the second album by this band, it’s the first I’ve heard of them. I was suckered into buying the whole album, back in the day before you could buy one song out of the bunch. (To really date myself, I happened to be channel-surfing, in those ancient days when VH-1 actually played — GASP! — music videos, and I heard “Hole Hearted,” which is apparently the band’s only hit.) The balance of this album is so radically different from that one cut (read: “Hole Hearted” is the only song worth anything), and it’s definitely not a keeper; meanwhile, I thought I’d take a long look at who and what these guys are, or at least what they tried to be.

It’s difficult to know what to make of this bunch, judging by this album. In a lot of ways, it’s as if they didn’t know what they wanted to be when they grew up. “Decadence Dance” sounds like a lot of fairly basic 70s rock, once it settles down. “Li’l Jack Horny” borrows from southern-fried rock (.38 Special, etc.). “When I’m President” is rap — gods save us all. “More Than Words” could have appeared on a James Taylor album or, given the harmonies, early Beatles. “When I First Kissed You” is smoky bar-room blues, a Sinatra homage. (I suspect they’d be insulted if I said that it sounded like it could belong on Barry Manilow’s 2a.m. Paradise Café album, but then Manilow would be just as insulted.) “Suzi” is about fellatio — what a surprise. “Song For Love” has the feel of a re-made track from Yes. Finally, “Hole Hearted” is a throwback to best of early 70s romance rock, where the band was singing the same song at the same time and actually made some impressive harmonies.

Above and beyond all else, I do have to credit these guys with being musicians. Nuno Bettencourt performs a brief miracle of frenetic fingering in an uncredited track referred to in the liner notes as “Flight of the Wounded Bumble Bee.” Everyone in the band knows how to work together to create a unified sound; the harmonies, in songs where there is harmony, are close and interesting. “Hole Hearted” makes good use of the under-appreciated augmented 4th (or at least, in relative terms, a C major to D major jump – the opposite of the more traditional C major to B-flat major move). They have created a unique sound for themselves, no question. I just wish that the product of their skill had greater merit.

There are a great many unfulfilled hints in this album. In a few places, it seems as if these guys are trying to come out of the closet — oblique suggestions about the inferiority or instability of females, greater intimacy between “the guys,” and so forth. However, since the grundgemetal sound of the majority of the album tends to be born of false he-manhood, I’ll assume that the sum total of the hints deals more with their wanting more sex (from whatever source), more money, and more power than their collective fame had allowed them.

As my mother might have said, I ain’t sure if they’re fer it or agin it. The angry harshness of the sexual cuts gets contrasted with almost sickeningly sweet love songs. Money is hailed as God (take a lesson from Genesis, guys — “Jesus He Knows Me” was the top song of the decade, in that genre), and naturally, things will be different when one of them gets to be President, although none of them knows what he’ll do if he actually got there. It reminds me of Nixon and Reagan, promising that they have a secret strategy to fix everything, but we’d have to elect him to find out what it is. Don’t tell me these guys are Republican stringers…!

The whole album, lyrically and musically, has a great deal to say; unfortunately, the message is hopelessly lost in a mixture of styles and, worse yet, in an emphasis on remaining obscure at any cost. That which is blunt serves no purpose (Suzi likes her sausages… big fat hairy deal); that which is abstruse makes no sense at all. Largely, to borrow a phrase more suited to the 1990s, when the album came out, it’s a question of “Where’s the beef?”

Pick a single genre, boys, and work it till it does what you really want it to. My recommendation would be to soften the sounds and let the lyrics tell the story openly and properly. The rock is fine; ditch the rap and the crap. There’s a lot of musical talent going to waste. Focus on tracks like “Hole Hearted,” make the lyrics work double-duty for you, and you’ll get your statement across. Arguments are not won by volume or aural assault, no matter what foolish arguers may think.

“Hole Hearted” gets a big 4/5 vote; the album as a whole (no pun intended) is 1/5.

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