Although by the late '80s hair metal dominated America, it never really did as well overseas. In the UK, although all the major glam metal bands enjoyed some degree of popularity, Motley Crue, Poison, Skid Row, and even Van Halen have never had a platinum disc. Extreme's Pornograffiti, however, went platinum in the UK, putting them in the elite company of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. Going platinum is more of an achievement in the UK than in the US anyway. In America, a band with a gold record wouldn't be a headline act, but in the UK if you went gold you could play any indoor arena you chose. The fact that Extreme went British platinum when so many of their superstar peers failed, then, is an enormous feat.
The driving force behind Extreme was Nuno Bettencourt, a shred* guitarist of the first order. He was the only guitarist in the band, yet the parts he wrote were always highly interesting, intricate, and filled space in the arrangement better than many two-guitar bands. As a songwriter, he wrote some of the strongest, most melodic funk-influenced hard rock you could ask for, and as a soloist… well, there are countries where children are beaten for showing such signs of genius. Extreme's influences are fairly obviously Queen (they were dubbed "Queen for the 21st Century" at one point in the press), Van Halen, and Aerosmith (with whom they share the home town of Boston), but they are original, creative, and almost certainly the most talented of the bands to arrive in 1989. Mr. Big would give them a run for their money on this, but both bands have completely awesome musicianship. Actually, that's not where the similarity ends; both bands broke through into rock's major league on the back of international smash hit ballads in 1991: for Mr. Big it was "To Be With You", and for Extreme it was "More Than Words". To this day "More Than Words" gets good radio airplay in Britain (and America too, I expect) and the hideously popular Irish boy band Westlife have covered it. Because of Bettencourt's phenomenal guitar skills, Extreme remain popular in musicians' circles. Capitalising on Nuno's guitar hero status, Washburn still produce his signature guitar.
Extreme's last album was Waiting for the Punchline in 1995, a darker album which sold disappointingly. The band broke up when Gary Cherone replaced Sammy Hagar in Van Halen, and since then Nuno's done a solo album Schizophonic, and worked with his new band, the Mourning Widows. That stuff is all pretty hard to find and much more modern sounding than Extreme (well, it is 10 years since Extreme's prime), but worth a listen. The remaining members of Extreme are now together in a band called Tribe of Judah, much to the annoyance of my best friend who used to be in a band by that name.
Back to Extreme. Well, there's not that much more to say about them: they were awesome and they sold a shedload of records. I guess it's worth mentioning that for 1992's concept album III Sides to Every Story they did this epic three-part finale complete with a full orchestra. Of course, the critics blasted it for being a self-indulgent return to prog-rock excess. I've also heard it described as sounding like something from a B-movie soundtrack. Personally, though, I think the band should be admired for having the vision and courage to do something like that and they should be even more applauded for pulling it off. It never quite reaches the soaring height you think it will, but it's a cool piece of work nonetheless.
Best album: The first three, Extreme, Extreme II: Pornograffiti, and III Sides to Every Story are all magnificent pieces of work. Pornograffiti has more than just a nifty hit ballad to its credit though; it's a masterful concept album with great songs and great guitar playing. The grooves are so funky the Nuno should go for a job in James Brown's band, the harmonies would (and did) make Queen proud, and the thing achieves beautifully the combination of accessibility and hard rock. Oh yeah, and it has the big ol' hit "Get the Funk Out".
*Shred guitar: Remember those technically perfect, blindingly fast guitar solos from the '80s? That's shred. The top shredders are probably Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Joe Satriani.
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