Waiting For The Punchline


A & M Records, 1995


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Wouldn't you know it... another band packs it in just as a breath of fresh air is injected into the band.

In 1995, Extreme might not have been seen as the "hip" band that scored a hit with "Hole Hearted"; their next effort, III Sides To Every Story was seen as a bit of a commercial disappointment. Gary Cherone and crew had two choices: Go the commercial route and aim for the next hit single, or continue making concept albums and hope for the best.

With new drummer Mike Mangini in tow, Extreme chose the second road and made what turned out to be their most challenging album of their career, Waiting For The Punchline. While this is not the easiest album to get through (especially if you're paying attention to the lyrics), there are moments on this album that demonstrate how good the band was.

I don't claim to have perfect knowledge of the plot, but the album seems to be the tale of an atheist who comes to discover God in his life, yet still has difficulty accepting what he has now seen. Right there, you know this isn't an album aimed for radio - not with tracks titled "There Is No God," a song guaranteed to make Pat Robertson cringe.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

What might be lost in the "controversy" of the material is the fact that Extreme sound funkier than they had in a long time. Former drummer Paul Geary makes his final appearances with the band on Waiting For The Punchline, and his drumming finally moved away from the robotic beat he seemed to be keeping on III Sides To Every Story. Guitarist Nuno Bettencourt continues to prove that he knows how to shred when the moment calls for it (though I did find myself wishing I heard a rhythm guitar during some of his solos), bassist Pat Badger acts as the backbone for the band's rhythm section. And Cherone? His vocals are as powerful as ever; no surprise there.

What is surprising on Waiting For The Punchline is that it does seem difficult to follow the story line. "Cynical" obviously seems to be people's criticism of the protagonist for his agnostic ways, while "Hip Today" and "Midnight Express," despite the latter featuring some of Bettencourt's best guitar work, don't really seem to fit in with the story.

Be this as it may, most of the music contained therein is strong enough to keep your interest. Cuts like "Tell Me Something I Don't Know," "Leave Me Alone" and "Shadow Boxing" all demonstrate why Extreme gained so many fans in their career. Still, others, like "Unconditionally" and "Evilangelist" don't live up to their potential.

This brings us to the hidden title track - the final, confusing piece in the puzzle. Does the song mean to suggest that the protagonist's "revelation" scenes have all been a cruel joke? Or is the reason it was uncredited was because it didn't fit with the story?

Whatever the case, many fans found themselves waiting for the punchline; the album hardly set the charts on fire. After months of rumors, Extreme finally was laid to rest after this album, with Bettencourt pursuing a solo career and Cherone making the leap into the lead singer/ejector seat in Van Halen.

For a moment, let's cast away the story that intertwines the songs on Waiting For The Punchline. What you're left with is a collection of songs that, more often than not, hit the target, and hit it hard.

Ah, but the problem is that you need the storyline in order to make this whole idea work. Too bad the concept wasn't explained a little clearer, and the connections made easier to follow.

If you're a fan of Extreme, Waiting For The Punchline is probably already in your collections. If it isn't, it's still worth picking up. Just be prepared to give it several listens in order for everything to sink in.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A & M Records, and is used for informational purposes only.