Christmastime 1990. I was forced to spend it in Ireland once again. At that time all I wanted to do was be home with my band (Midnight Angel – 1990 Battle of the Bands winner at MHS, thankyouverymuch!), and my girlfriend, but nooooo… so off to Belfast I went!! The cool thing though, was that my bass player Marius felt bad for me so he loaned me some CDs for the plane trip. And one of those CDs was the basis for this week’s Classic Albums. It was none other than the landmark sophomore effort from Boston band EXTREME, titled Extreme II: Pornograffitti, and as soon as I pressed PLAY I was bouncing about the cabin like a crazy person!
“Franciiiis! Francis, be careful!” are the ominous words we hear at the beginning of one of the all-time greatest songs in the band’s catalog “Decadence Dance” Nuno Bettencourt unleashes this monster riff that was unlike anything at the time and vocalist Gary Cherone’s powerhouse pipes dig into the very fiber of your brain. He’s one of my favorites for a reason, and on “Li’L Jack Horny” not only do we get more guitar acrobatics from Nuno, but the high-pitched wail Gary lets out to start it is one I ran around doing for years when I was a forklift operator in a cavernous warehouse, much to my boss’s misery. The band even shows off their cheeky side with a little rap on “When I’m President” which is all about the promises of Presidential candidates. Nuno even goes so far as to have his guitar do a bit of DJ scratching noise using his palms and unleashes yet another furious solo; par for the course at this point.
Bassist Pat Badger and drummer Paul Geary get to shine on “Get the Funk Out”, a cleverly-worded anti-censorship number that is actually really funky. If you’ve ever seen EXTREME do this one live you know it’s one of the highlights of any show, and the breakdown section is the epitome of tightness. Of course the first time I had it on loud in my room, Mom came flyin’ in thinking “FUNK” was something else, hahaha! Now we come to “More Than Words”, the song that elevated, and then torpedoed the band’s career. A beautiful love song combining fingerpicking and harmonies between Gary and Nuno that other bands couldn’t touch on their BEST day this was, is, and always will be a favorite of mine. And yep, this is another one I labored for hours over, nailing down both vocal parts, DUH! “Money (In God We Trust)” features yet another fantastic Nuno riff and a solo to die for. If at this point you aren’t convinced that Nuno is God, then seek help.
Songs like “It’s a Monster” and “Pornograffitti” also demonstrate just how far EXTREME had come from their very good, but lacking in places debut. The song structures and Nuno’s never-ending supply of innovative riffs and grooves are not for the faint of heart. I’ve seen them live six times and my jaw STILL drops at just how fucking talented this band is, even after all these years. And then we get to see yet another side of Mr. Cherone, that of the jazz crooner. “When I First Kissed You” has that gin-soaked feel of something you’d hear in some joint back in the 40’s as you talked about the “getaway sticks on that dame” over there. God, I still love this song so much! The funk returns for “Suzi (Wants Her All Day What)” a combination of sexual innuendo and catchy chorus, this one stays in the head for a bit. I remember riding around Belfast alternately chuckling and being in awe whenever this one came back around.
As if we already didn’t know what Nuno was capable of, along comes “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee” the ultra-fast digital delayed intro to “He-Man Woman Hater”, something virtually NO guitarist on this planet could pull off, save for my good friend Neil Swanson. I bet he could. Anyway, “He-Man” has another big hook and meaty rhythms, and is more of the ass-kickingness that we’ve been served on a silver platter so far. The completely atypical ballad is next in “Song for Love” once again showing that EXTREME were head and shoulders above of their peers at the time. The build-up of the bridge into the chorus will have you singing along in no time, and Gary’s 50’s style doo-wop highs at the end are a personal highlight for me. “Hole Hearted” was the OTHER big hit that only served to further pigeon-hole this band thanks to fucking MTV. Meanwhile, the blues-heavy riff is being played on a 12-string acoustic and is among EXTREME’S best, no question. My friend Meat and I used to sit on the quad at Nassau Community singing and playing this one, and sometimes we got a nice little crowd.
I am a HUGE EXTREME fan. I always have been, and I always will be. I consider them to be much like QUEEN in that both frontmen were equally dynamic, and no two albums are alike. And with each one I have different wonderful memories attached to them, whether it was the girl I dated, or where I was living, etc. But this one, Pornograffiti is special. It singlehandedly took a good trip to Ireland and made it a great one. It also serves as a reminder of a time when I was 17 with a new driver’s license, not a care in the world, and surrounded by my buddies. I ask you, does it get any better than that? I don’t think so. ~dc