GOOD NEWS OUTWEIGHS THE BAD IN EXTREME’S RETURN, SAUDADES DE ROCK
Extreme’s first record in thirteen years, Saudades de Rock, is as complex and satisfying as it is simple and somewhat disappointing. The bad news is, in no particular order: the production is dry and raw, singer Gary Cherone more or less screams his way through a good deal of his vocals, and some of the songs are just downright bizarre (see: Take Us Alive). The good news, however, far outweighs the bad, as the band really has put together an unusually delicious collection of songs that are as likely to be categorized as ‘hair metal’ as Slipknot would be considered ‘country.’
Saudades de Rock includes all of the band’s signature elements from their four previous records: guitar-God Nuno Bettencourt tearing apart his Washburn, solid Queen-esque harmony vocals, killer funk-metal riffs, and memorable choruses that stick in your head. What’s changed is clearly what has influenced the band members individually and thus, collectively, over the past thirteen years since they last recorded together, including a change in drummer (welcome, Kevin Figueiredo).
Long gone are slickly produced guitar masterpieces like “Decadence Dance” and “Kid Ego;” instead we are presented with a more mature and certainly more diverse guitar lover’s record, with Nuno easing back on his signature riffs and eardrum blowing overdrive, delivering more of a classic rock, Led Zeppelin-blues influenced feel, evident in both his songwriting and playing. Songs like “Comfortably Dumb,” “Star” and “Flower Man” will certainly appeal to longtime fans of the band, where as tracks like the aforementioned “Take Us Alive” and “King of the Ladies” might leave people scratching their heads, at least during the first dozen or so listens.
I’m happy to report that the record is thankfully missing any sign of a “More Than Words:” Part Deux — not that I don’t like the tune, but it kills me that the band will be eternally remembered for one song that in no way, shape or form defines their unique and brilliant overall sound. That said, there are two standout tracks on the CD that aren’t amongst the heavier songs — the haunting (no pun intended) piano ballad “Ghost” which features some incredible dueling harmony vocals from Gary and Nuno, and the acoustic guitar-driven “Interface,” possibly my favorite non-ass-kicking song on Saudades de Rock.
The rhythm section, once tighter than a crab’s ass, has a much different feel than on previous records. Bassist Pat Badger really shines throughout this record, featuring some pretty memorable work, especially on the track “Learn to Love.” Pat holds it all together, well-synched with new drummer Kevin Figueiredo, but in the spirit of the record (read: whatever Nuno was trying to capture), the rhythm section has much more of a loose, live feel to it, which is quite complimentary to the structure and presentation of the songs, mixing seamlessly and naturally with Nuno’s lead and rhythm guitar work and Gary’s vocals. It’s worth mentioning that Figueiredo is an absolute monster, and the only thing more impressive than his performance on this record are his sideburns in the accompanying album artwork.
It took me more than a few listens to really understand and appreciate what Extreme is trying to do with Saudades de Rock. Pornograffitti and III Sides to Every Story are amongst my favorite records of all time, and as much as I disliked Waiting for the Punchline, when I heard that the band was finally getting back together to record again I couldn’t wait to hear the results. All in all, I have to say that Saudades de Rock is an impressive, albeit slightly disappointing effort. Nuno plays his ass off, but he does it in a way that is markedly different from his glory days of the late ’80s and early ’90s, and it’s hard not to miss fun, brilliantly played and produced songs like “Mutha (Don’t Wanna Go to School Today)” and “It (’s a Monster).” But as musicians and songwriters, you have to appreciate a band’s ability and desire to move forward, and thankfully Extreme has done it in a way that most of the songs are impressive and memorable.