Pete Townsend Psychderelict review

Extreme - Waiting for the Punchline

"Pitiful" and "sad" are both terms that come to mind when I think of late eighties hair metal bands that tried to make the transition from power rockers to grunge connoisseurs in the early nineties. Warrant, Skid Row and several others tried to imbue their nineties efforts with alternative or punk elements and only managed to showcase their obvious lack of understanding of these musical styles. As such, you might think that it would be easy to ascertain my feelings towards what I've always referred as Extreme's "grunge album" - their 1995 release "Waiting For The Punchline."

However, you'd be wrong. Because I loved it. I loved it when I first heard it (a couple of years after it came out) and it still holds up today as a strong testament to what made Extreme one of the bestů no, scratch that, the best band to come out of the eighties hard rock explosion.

In truth, it's what set Extreme apart from bands such as Warrant that made their attempt at grafting the grunge influence successful. You see, Extreme never really was a simple hair band. You have to look close to see this fact, but on a thorough examination it shines through like a diamond on the hilt of your favorite S&M dominatrix. Granted, their first album, the self-titled "Extreme", offered little proof of this, it was a combat ready hard rock album that nicely showcased the fact that guitarist Nuno Bettencourt was one of the greats. But with the release of their funk/metal/groove album, "Pornograffitti", and progressive rock opera "III Sides to Every Story" it became clear that Extreme was an exceptional band that had no desire to be pigeonholed (Clear to everyone but faggy rock critics that is.)

By the time their fourth album, "Waiting For the Punchline," was released, Extreme had shown they had more staying power than most of the eighties school of metalheads. However, the musical landscape had changed drastically since they'd first appeared; Extreme was aware of this and what they offered up in "Waiting For The Punchline" acknowledged the grunge school while holding onto their strengths (mainly Nuno's unapologetic shredding and Gary Cherone's intelligent lyricism and vocal harmonies.) The most obvious update to the sound was in the heavier guitar tone, a tonality that inched slowly towards the sounds of The Melvin's dirges. Also noticeable was the inclusion of plodding bass grooves similar to those that had come to dominate the 90's with such groups as Alice in Chains and Rage Against The Machine.

The album still centered around the main musical device of all the Extreme albums: the riff. Nuno Bettencourt is unquestionably one of the great riffmasters and "Waiting For The Punchline" extended his legacy. From the heavy grime of "There Is No God" to the aluminum sounding "Leave me Alone" Extreme was pounding out six string hooks with the best of them. And there was something less sugary about the guitar parts in this album as opposed to previous Extreme attempts. The droning bass and cloudlike guitar work allowed "Waiting For The Punchline" an opportunity to skate on a lake of sludge that had been absent till then.

Lyrically, this seemed one of their most interesting albums. Whereas their first album was powered by several tits and ass tributes and "Pornograffitti's" success was fueled by a vapid love ballad, Waiting's lyrics were almost exclusively philosophical ponderances on subjects like fame, religion and physical appearances. While Gary Cherone is never going to be compared to Dylan, his even attempting to discuss such subjects stands out in the realm of hard rock (and makes his later assignment to a "good time rock and roll" band like Van Halen even more questionable.)

However, despite the fact that "Waiting For The Punchline" was an admirable evolutionary step for Extreme, it ultimately proved the finishing blow for the band. After shoddy sales on "Waiting For The Punchline", Nuno left the band and Gary Cherone replaced Sammy Hagar in Van Halen. Grunge's final victory had been to eradicate the best of the breed.

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