Saturday, February 04, 2012
III SIDES TO EVERY STORY
Nearly 20 years have passed since the release of the third Extreme disc. Muscular playing, tight arrangements and exceptional harmonies all coalesce beautifully, allowing the material to transcend the funk-metal genre that they were tagged in.
For all that, Extreme III was a spectacular commercial failure.
Critics at the time were effusive in their praise of the record, with some docking a few points here and there for the bombastic nature of certain selections. Generally, you can see great strides being taken toward the style of mid-70s Queen with melody taking precedence over sheer volume. They had proven themselves capable of writing a mother-of-an-ear-worm-for-the-masses when they unleashed "that fucking song" (More Than Words) on an unsuspecting populace in the early nineties. Unless you were dwelling in a cave in the mountains of Tibet, pondering your place in the eternal now, there was no way of escaping it.
Adept at both grinding riffage and softer fare, they were in danger of becoming overshadowed by this enchanting little ballad.
Hard to follow your own act
To their credit, they did so, without succumbing to the temptation of churning out another clone of their biggest hit.
What of these three sides?
Forcefully grabbing the listener by the lapels with "Warheads", the "other side of the story" is painted in lurid, aggressive shades of angry red. Nuno Bettencourt showcases his ability to literally melt the fretboard at every turn. Standout track in this section is "Rest In Peace" which shifts smoothly through a series of jaw-dropping, dynamic changes with hooks galore (and a little Jimi). Confidence brimming, they even fire off a clever tribute to their own recent past in the outro. You'll be in on the joke, though.
"Politicalamity" smokes and burns with another tip of the hat to Hendrix thrown into the riff for good measure. This section of the album is devastating, with plenty of vocal and instrumental gymnastics. Simply saying that these guys could really play vastly understates the true depth of their gifts as a group.
Perhaps sensing that a softer landing pad was required after the blitzkrieg attack that comprised the first set of tunes, we are treated to some well constructed pop to outline how most folks tell their own side of the story. Hands down favorite here is "Tragic Comic", which features Beatlesque harmonies, funny lyrics and a very catchy chorus. "Stop the World" runs a close second. Versatility? They make the transition between/amongst styles look deceptively easy.
Bringing this immaculate set to a close is a majestic, three part suite which gives the impression that the quartet were three summers ahead of their nearest competition in terms of vision and sonic ambition. The orchestral overdubs were completed within the hallowed studio walls of Abbey Road. Gary Cherone pushes his voice to its limit, displaying operatic echoes of Queen and this likely served to alienate those fans who wanted straight up metal. Soaring passages abound, this exploration of something more substantial can only be applauded as a very bold move. The use of strings only adds to the powerful climax that is carefully constructed to quicken the pulse as the race to the finish line doubles in its intensity.
It rarely gets better than this, yet those who were expecting a brainless, poodle-balanced-on-the-head, guitar-pyrotechnics-on-steroids romp through hair-metal heaven were turned off by the slightly proggy experimentation taken up here in earnest.
Here's the deal
This is one of the best kept secrets of its time. Out of phase with grunge, too adventurous for casual fans and considered as candy-assed by funk-metal maniacs, III Sides to Every Story failed to find the success of their previous release.
All that can be said is to give this one a second chance. It is truly a rare gem in their discography and deserves to be heard.