III Sides To Every Story

Extreme

A & M Records, 1992

http://www.extreme-band.com

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/24/2014

While their debut presented glam-metal that was genuinely straightforward, and Pornografitti highlighted the genre's ridiculousness while also revelling in it, Extreme's third album sees the band drop their walls completely. The songs get political, they get personal, and they get ambitious (in that order no less).

The album's three distinct sections (subtitled Yours, Mine, and The Truth) focus on each of those approaches in turn, changing styles to suit them. The different sections all bleed into one another at various moments, but they function as separate entities almost as well as they do when placed together. The production is the best Extreme would ever have. That sickly 80s-echo is gone, replaced by a dry upfront sound that prioritizes clarity and dynamics over all else. The drums in particular benefit greatly from this, but the bright crystalline production on this record makes it seem like practically everything is able to cut through the mix. The album as a whole has a significant power-pop flavor to it, which the production bolsters nicely.

The first section, subtitled Yours, is chock full of the funky hard rock that dominated Extreme's previous records. I hesitate to suggest that the group's playing has gotten tighter, since it's hard to improve on the level they were already reaching, but if anything their focus has skyrocketed. There’s no room for messing around. These six songs hit hard one after another with laser-like precision. Nuno Bettencourt shows no signs of letting up his non-stop barrage of brilliant licks and riffs and sees that not a moment passes without some jaw-dropping guitar line. The lyrics are politically charged, but they keep the themes pretty simple (war is bad, racism is bad, media is bad, and so on) which might edge into cheesiness for some listeners, but doesn't bother me. Every track has something to offer, but the supremely catchy “Color Me Blind” and the band's grooviest song ever, “Cupid's Dead,” are the biggest standouts.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And then suddenly, everything changes. As “Seven Sundays” kicks in we're greeted with nothing less than a piano and strings leading a waltz that features nary a single lick of guitar. This sentimental ballad signals the drastic change of pace that is the Mine portion of the record. The guitar returns immediately on the next track, but it's kept predominantly acoustic with the electric being mixed in only when needed. “Tragic Comic” and “Stop The World” are my favorites here, but like the first third of the record, it's a very even listen. They demonstrate just how far they've come in writing these sorts of songs since their debut. The approach that worked so well on “Hole Hearted” is revised and pushed into new territory with lyrics about interpersonal relationships, spirituality, and finding one's place in the world.

Finally we end with The Truth, and I don't hesitate in calling it the greatest achievement of Extreme's career. This section contains “Everything Under The Sun”, a 22-minute progressive-rock suite backed by a seamlessly integrated 70-piece orchestra. Like the album itself, the suite is divided into three segments which unite into a sublime whole. It largely feels like a continuation of the atmosphere established on Mine, but there are elements of a ton of different things mixed in. What strikes me most is how successfully they blended their ambitions for the suite with genuine songcraft. The solos and instrumental parts are kept short, diverse, and to-the-point, there are no huge meandering sections like you might find in a lot of other 20-minute-plus songs, and the vocal melodies are just as memorable and plentiful as they are on the rest of the record.

Perhaps most significantly, there is no greater showcase of Nuno Bettencourt's guitar-work in Extreme's entire discography. It's not that every moment is filled with highly technical playing, but that he utilizes every possible approach to guitar he can think of and uses them all with equal finesse. Acoustic, electric, lead, rhythm, soloing, shredding, delay, chorus, distortion, the list goes on. This suite is practically a demo-reel of the enormous diversity of sounds a guitar is capable of providing in a rock context. It's also a lesson on how to craft brilliant parts that don't overstep their boundaries and always stay in service to the songwriting. The whole thing builds to a spectacular climax featuring an a capella section followed by multiple choruses being sung over top of one another, which never fails to send chills down my spine every time I listen to it. Other bands have pulled these tricks before, but coming at the end of an epic like this, it has rarely felt as earned as it does here.

III Sides To Every Story demonstrates how thematic unity and ambition can enhance a record already full of fantastic songs. There isn't a wasted moment in its entire duration and I'm proud to count it among my personal favorite records.

Rating: A

User Rating: B


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