Extreme may always be best known to the world at large for the acoustic hit ‘More Than Words,’ but rock fans know the band’s real bread and butter was a funky, harmony-driven rock sound which was equal parts Van Halen, Aerosmith and Queen, capped off with the tasteful shred of guitarist Nuno Bettencourt. Nuno was one of the best of the post Van Halen guitarists, and what made him stand out most was his sense of groove and rhythm. Nuno was never content to phone it in until it was time to solo, and as a result his rhythm guitar parts were always a finely balanced concoction of technicality and danceability.
Thirteen years have passed since Extreme’s last album, the raw and underrated ‘Waiting For The Punchline.’ Since then, singer Gary Cherone fronted Van Halen (he put in a valiant effort, but it was just not to be); drummer Paul Geary, who split halfway through the ‘Punchline’ sessions, managed Godsmack; bass player Pat Badger raised alpacas; and Nuno released a whole bunch of albums, mostly under various band names but still all amounting to “Nuno + backing band.” Now the band feels the time is right to return, and although Geary is assisting with band management matters, the drum stool is now occupied by Kevin Figueiredo from Nuno’s last band, Dramagods.
Saudades de Rock (the name loosely translates as ‘nostalgic homesickness for rock’) has a lot in common with ‘Punchline’ – raw production, ambient drum sounds, a minimum of overdubs – but it sounds tighter, sharper, and altogether more powerful than that album’s dark, muffled tone. The album opens with Star, draped in Queen-inspired harmonies over a rhythm section slightly reminiscent of the big Van Halen shuffles like ‘Hot For Teacher.’ Lyrically, the song is similar to ‘Hip Today’ from ‘Punchline,’ but while that song offered an ominous warning to the here today, gone tomorrow grunge bands of the day, ‘Star’ expands the scope to the world of instant stardom through reality TV and paparazzi frenzy.
‘Comfortably Dumb’ has a killer groove and tight vocal harmonies, while the lyrics flow on from Frank Zappa’s famous comment that the most plentiful element in the universe is stupidity. The protagonist of the song has become jaded and desensitised due to multimedia oversaturation. A parallel can again be drawn to a ‘Punchline’ track, ‘Cynical,’ but in that song the subject was left negative and pessimistic by the state of the world, in ‘Comfortably Dumb’ they’ve shut down completely.
‘Take Us Alive’ has a rockabilly-influenced, country edge complete with some twangy guitar noodling. ‘King of the Ladies’ is reminiscent of Nuno’s solo work, and is one of several moments on the album where Nuno lets his Octave pedal do the talking, to great effect. ‘Last Hour on Earth’ picks up where Van Halen’s ‘A Year To The Day’ left off, in both structure and feel, and ‘Flower Man’ picks up the pace with more clever harmony colouring. ‘Ghost’ has drawn many comparisons to Coldplay, and if radio was to find this song it would be a certain hit. And while the album concludes with ‘Peace (Saudade),’ it feels more like a low-key encore because it’s the second last track, ‘Sunrise,’ that really feels like the closer to the album proper.
Some fans are calling Saudades de Rock the best album of Extreme’s career. Others aren’t quite won over by the continued use of the live-sounding recording techniques of the ‘Punchline’ album, hoping instead for a return to the more produced sounds of ‘Pornograffiti’ and ‘III Sides to Every Story.’ Personally I freaking love this album and, after living with it for about a month, I still find myself drawn to it several times a week, when usually I’ve moved on from an album by that time. It’s for that reason that I’m naming Saudades de Rock my favourite album of the year so far.
Open E Records