INTERVIEW: Bryan Beller

Bryan Beller is a bass virtuoso, possessed of impeccable phrasing, killer tone, perfect note choice, and a sense of timing and groove so unstoppable that no less than Steve Vai said of him, “At what he does Bryan is truly a giant. His inner musical ear is so receptive that it’s scary.” Whether backing Vai in his String Theories band, nailing the brilliantly impossible compositions of mentor Mike Keneally, or playing in the live touring version of the death metal band Dethklok from the cartoon Metalocalypse, Beller can always be counted on to bring his A game. His new solo album, ‘Thanks In Advance,’ is released on Onion Boy records this month, featuring guest appearances by Keneally, drummers Joe Travers and Marco Minnemann, and many others.

PETER: How did this album come together, and what did you do differently to ‘View’?

BRYAN BELLER: Well, I totally turned my life upside down a year and a half after View came out. It was spurred on by the death of one of my best friends, bassist Wes Wehmiller (1972-2005). I found myself wanting to take chances and not waste another second, so I quit my job, I became a full-time musician again, and moved to Nashville for love. Midlife crisis, a reawakening, whatever you want to call it – it all happened from 2005 to 2006, and my outlook on life changed completely, from a negatively informed fixed opinion to a positively informed mutable possibility. Three months after I got to Nashville, in April of 2006, the vision for the album came to me, almost as a whole. I really wanted to tell the story of going through that, getting to the root of why I was so negative all the time, and finding a way through it and getting to the place I’m at now. That’s what Thanks In Advance is really about. Whereas with View, it all happened so fast – three months from first tracking note to final master – that I didn’t even know what I was trying to say, other than I was crafting as gorgeous a lament as I possibly could. Also, View was recorded in one studio, with one engineer, all in the same room. Thanks In Advance was tracked in over ten studios with seven different engineers. I was there for most of the sessions, so it wasn’t a big file-swapping party like a lot of records nowadays, but it definitely changed the vibe of how it came together. View was an event; Thanks In Advance was more of a process, or a journey.

PETER: The pacing and sequencing of the album is perfect, especially the way ‘Thanks In Advance’ seems to close the album, then you burst back with the high energy ‘From Nothing.’ Did you always plan to sequence the album this way?

BELLER: I actually started with a list of song titles that reflected the narrative arc of the story I was trying to tell. Writing mostly instrumental music, I really only get one chance in language to inform the listener of my intent with the song, and that’s the title. So I made this list of titles, put them in order, and then I wrote the music to the titles – I tried to evoke, musically, what the song was trying to say. And what happened at the end was part of the plan. “Thanks In Advance” is the end of the narrative in a way, a song about gratitude for having arrived at this new place, and “From Nothing” is really what happens after the story is told. “From Nothing” is about suddenly finding yourself able to see everything around you, I mean really see everything and not just your own view of things, and accepting the beauty and the tumult and the chaos of it all and, slowly but surely, finding peace in the center of it.

PETER: ‘Casual Lie Day’ has a lot going on, yet it never sounds cluttered. How did the arrangement come together?

BELLER: Tom Trapp, a really excellent arranger and orchestrator, is the guy who made this arrangement happen. I met him through the work I did with Holland’s Metropol Orchestra and Steve Vai, because Tom did some of those arrangements. Then when I played with the Metropol again for a project with Mike Keneally, I began to have this vision for a swinging jazz/fusion tune, jazzier than I usually write, with an orchestral component. The idea was for the instrumentation to be lush, but for the actual chords and voicings to be slightly dissonant along with the guitar. So I sent Tom the original demo of the tune, and then the basic rhythm tracks of the real cut, and he wrote an arrangement on top of it and sent it to me. I ended up keeping a lot of it, tweaking a little of it, and between the two of us, we got something we both liked on the third shot. We were careful in mixing not to have it consumed by the arrangements, because ultimately it’s a guitar and piano-driven tune, but obviously we wanted people to hear the extra orchestral flourishes when appropriate.

PETER: ‘Cost Of Doing Business’ almost sounds like Nine Inch Nails if Trent was into fusion. Is that track a one-off, or do you have a lot of that kind of electronic/organic hybrid stuff in the vault

BELLER: In terms of this specific style, it’s pretty much a one-off, though I could probably sit around and write stuff like that for days. I love what Trent does – melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, soundwise, you name it – and in a way it’s a guilty pleasure for me to go there considering the style of the rest of the record, and I’m not about to try and be the next industrial studio genius. But there was a place for that song in the record and in the story arc, so I went for it. It was originally a four-bass-track multi-layer thing, and only later did engineer/drummer Mark Niemiec and I turn it into something with super-compressed drums and buzzy synths and other NIN-style accoutrements. The original version is on the special-edition DVD as a bonus audio track.

PETER: What gear did you use on the album?

BELLER: For the most part, my signal path was split into four channels:
1) Tube Mic-Pre direct – an ART TubePAC
2) SansAmp PSA-1, usually set to preset 32, a sub-type sound for extra low end.
3) An SWR amp of some kind, miked – for some tracks it was a Super Redhead, for the fretless tracks it was a Workingman’s 12 combo amp, and for other stuff it was an Grand Prix preamp, powered and sent through a Goliath III 4×10.
4) Wildcard – sometimes it was my pedalboard with various effects on through another ART TubePAC, sometimes it was the SWR Mo’ Bass with all sorts of effects engaged…it changed from song to song. Some songs we didn’t use the fourth channel at all.
As for basses, I used my trusty red Mike Lull Modern V 5-string jazz bass on five tunes, a Mike Lull Modern V Fretless on two tunes, Wes’ old Fender P-Bass on two tracks (including the title track), a Fender Custom Shop ’64 re-issue jazz bass on one track, and the Taylor AB-4 acoustic/electric on the solo piece “Life Story.”

PETER: You have some quite well respected players on the album. What can you tell us about the contributions of: Mike Keneally

BELLER: Mike and I have long been musical partners, and he’s counted on me to be able to deliver a wide range of styles, emotions, sounds, and other things when it comes to his music. So it was a special privilege to have someone as freakishly talented as Mike – who’s a compositional mentor of mine as well – let loose on one of my more intense compositions like “Love Terror Adrenaline,” which conveys a very wide range of emotions and is also extremely difficult technically for a guitarist to pull off. He nails all of that tough stuff, but not like a technical-shredder guitarist would, which is good because it’s not a shredding tune – it’s more raw in its energy, more edgy in execution, and more real as a result, in my opinion. It’s easy to forget what an amazing guitarist he is sometimes. I think people will be floored by what he did on this song, and he was the only one who could have done it the way he did.

PETER: Marco Minnemann

BELLER: The first time I heard him I thought, “This is the next generation of Terry Bozzio, Vinnie Colauita, etc.” One of the best in the world. And I love that he’s coming primarily from a rock background, not a jazz background. Again, he’s only on “Love Terror Adrenaline,” but I chose him for two reasons. One, it was the perfect opportunity to put his famous independence to use, and there’s a really intense, stuttering 16th-note melodic rhythm that he doubles with the kick drum in a way that’s almost impossible to believe; two, there’s an angry, almost frenzied edge to his playing when he works up a head of steam, and that’s exactly the energy that I wanted for this song. It’s not supposed to make you feel comfortable – it’s about having an emotional panic attack. Marco’s a happy guy, don’t get me wrong, but I like his edgier side as well, and be really brought it to this performance.

PETER: Scheila Gonzalez

BELLER: There is such pure joy in her playing, it’s astounding. For me, she’s the magic element in the Zappa Plays Zappa band. Her soloing voice is so developed, so free, confident and mature and yet really adventurous. “From Nothing,” the last song of the album, is a celebration in a way, and as soon as I heard her play, I heard her voice as the featured instrument for that song.

PETER: Joe Travers

BELLER: Joe’s my rhythm section soulmate. I feel more comfortable playing with him than any other drummer. His groove, choices in fills, and confidence in managing a song’s structure are so in tune with mine that sometimes I feel like he’s inside my head while we’re playing. He’s on three tunes on the record, but when it comes to the live band, he’s the guy. We’ve been playing together for almost 20 years now. So when it comes to the most sensitive stuff, like the last two tracks on the album – and also when it comes to freewheeling groove tunes like “Greasy Wheel” – there’s no one I trust more.

PETER: ‘Love Terror Adrenaline/Break Through’ takes a lot of surprising twists and turns. What’s the concept behind that one?

BELLER: It helps to see it in the context of the sequence of the record. Starting from the beginning, each tune gets closer and closer to the core fear experience that I think many people have, especially me – not being able to have and/or maintain a close emotional relationship. Track by track, the album is a descent into darkness in that way, and when you get to “Love Terror Adrenaline/Break Through” (that’s the full name of the song), you’re at the nerve center of that darkness. Like I said, the song is the sound of a panic attack, about being threatened in the most vulnerable emotional place, and ultimately, near the end, about overcoming it and, finally, getting to what’s beyond that fear and achieving a kind of peace with it. The music to that set of emotions is deliberately complex and unpredictable at times.

PETER: You play a very melodic, full sounding guitar solo in ‘Play Hard.’ Do you play much guitar?

BELLER: I love guitar. I’m most influenced by guitarists nowadays, especially compositionally. I could listen to John Scofield and Michael Laundau all day long, and of course Keneally is an influence as well. As a result, guitar really is the driving melodic voice of the record. There’s plenty of bass solos and moments, but just because I’m a bassist doesn’t mean I wanted the bass to take over the record. During the writing process of the first record, I recorded all of the guitar parts for the demos on bass, which had its limitations. This time around, Rick Musallam gave me an old beater Strat copy of his to hang onto for a while, and I started getting around on it enough to track the demos on a real guitar. Mind you, I was playing most of the parts with my fingers, like a bass player would! I’m not much with a pick in my hands, though I used it for some simple stuff. But for “Play Hard,” I’d done all of the guitar tacks for the demo, and they’re very similar to what ended up on the record. So we’re in the studio and it came time for the solo, and Rick was like, “You should do it!” So I went in there and picked up his Les Paul and played it with my fingers, bassist-style. Then I double-tracked it for good measure. There’s video of me doing that on the DVD – it looks pretty stupid, but it worked. And just to put a cap on that, every tune on the record exists in full demo form, and I played the guitar on the whole thing. Most of those demos are on the special-edition DVD, and they’re pretty interesting to listen to now here at the end of the process. It’s funny how some things evolve, and other things just are the way they are the first time you do them.

PETER: What was it like touring with Steve Vai? Will you be playing with him again?

BELLER: Touring and working with Steve is a very intense and rewarding experience. You really develop a good set of mental and physical disciplines in your playing being out there onstage with him, playing difficult parts in front of people who are really there to see the music, to see it performed flawlessly, and who are for the most part discriminating listeners. You learn to set aside personal distractions, get to a place where the show isn’t about you but more for the people watching you, and then go out there and aim for mastery in execution while performing with the intensity of a hard rock band, jumping around and everything. There aren’t many gigs out there like that, and Steve has a very high standard for himself and his band. In that way, it’s similar to the Frank Zappa band experience, even though stylistically Frank and Steve are in very different places. I will say this – I appreciate Steve’s tendencies towards perfectionism more now that I’ve gone through the process of making this record. It’s my hope that we’ll do more performing and recording together in the future, though right now there aren’t any plans on the table. Right now he’s working on a live DVD of the last tour we did, and like with everything he does, he’s busy making it perfect so it’s taking a while. I can relate!

PETER: You recently wrapped up another Dethklok tour. How would you describe this experience, and what’s it like going from playing with Steve Vai and Mike Keneally to being in the greatest, most brutals deaths metals band in the world?

BELLER: Awesome. Just awesome. I’m a metalhead from way back when I was a kid: Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, and especially early Metallica. Master Of Puppets and Ride The Lightning and …And Justice For All just killed me when I was a kid. I always wanted to be in a metal band, but I never had the chance to play that stuff with anyone else, so I just did it all in my bedroom. 20 years later, I’m getting the chance to live out every heavy metal band fantasy I could ever have dreamed of. Plus, playing with drummer Gene “The Machine” Hoglan was another dream of mine come true. I’m a huge Strapping Young Lad fan, so it was fanboy time for me all over again. Their record Alien is one of the heaviest, sickest metal albums ever made. It’s what got me back into metal after a long time away from it.Doing that gig isn’t about being me at all – it’s all about making William Murderface sound good, and I do my best for that guy. Because there’s no “Bryan Beller” in “the band Dethklok” and it’s all in the world of unreality, I can just disappear in it, bang my head, and enjoy the visceral energy of the crowd. And after years of musical high-wire-act playing with Keneally and Vai, and even on my own stuff, it was a welcome and unexpected relief.

‘Thanks In Advance’ is released September 30 in standard and special edition versions (the special edition includes a behind-the-scenes DVD called ‘To Nothing’) and preorders are being taken now at www.bryanbeller.com

NEWS: New Paul Reed Smiths

Paul Reed Smith has launched a bunch of new guitars at their Experience PRS 2008 open house event, and one new design in particular, the Starla, seems to be inspired by the success of the Mira, which was introduced at Experience PRS 2007.

In a press release, PRS Director of R&D and Private Stock Joe Knaggs said “Some of those crazy old vintage guitars are really cool but imagine if you had one that was also really well-built.” The Starla looks slightly Gretschy to my eyes, with a Bigsby B5 tailpiece and double-screw pickups. The body is solid mahogany with a 24″ scale rosewood fretboard on a solid mahogany neck. PRS is offering dot inlays as standard, or bird inlays as an optional extra. The Starla Treble and Starla Bass pickups are unique to this model, and they’re built around Alnico magnets. Color options include Vintage Cherry, Vintage Mahogany, Vintage Orange and Black.

PRS also unveiled the highly anticipated Al Di Meola Prism model. This one was previewed in Guitar Player magazine recently. It features a unique stained top with a full spectrum of colors over a curly maple custom ‘9’ top with a mahogany back. The scale length is 25″, and the 22 fret, custom-shaped neck features a Mexican rosewood fretboard. The pickups are the new 1957/2008 set, and Al has been playing the prototype of this guitar on recent Return to Forever reunion shows. PRS says the 1957/2008 pickups were designed after the company obtained exclusive rights to the original pickup wire used in “the most revered pickups in the 50’s.” No prizes for guessing what they’re referring to. The name was arrived at because PRS obtained the rights to the wire in 2008, and 1957 was the year the humbucker was first commercially available.

Finally there’s the Modern Eagle II. This updated version has the same premium grade wood, frets and wide fat neck carve of the original Modern Eagle, but adds a new pickup system based around the 1957/2008 set, updated finishing techniques, new colours and a Modern Eagle case. The high gloss nitro finish is available in four colors: Faded Blue Jean, Charcoal, Red Tiger, and Yellow Tiger.

REVIEW: Q BALL – This Is Serious Business

Q*Ball is an eclectic artist who combines electronica, rock, and pop melodies with a sense of sonic experimentation and musical colour evocative of Berlin era Bowie. His third album, This Is Serious Business, adds live drums, acoustic guitars and grand pianos, and welcomes back the guitar and co-production talents of Bumblefoot, guitarist for Guns N Roses but also an extraordinarily talented solo artist in his own right.
Unlike some electronica, the songwriting of This Is Serious Business is strong enough to stand up to any treatment – these are songs that would sound great strummed around the proverbial campfire or raging out of a rock band. The instrumentation adds a sophistication and groove that make the album feel high-tech yet timeless, and the clean, strong vocals show a calm sense of restraint which keeps the delivery from pinning the album to a specific time in musical history – this doesn’t sound like a naughties or nineties or eighties album.
My favourite track is ‘She Drives Me Crazy,’ a power pop track with powerful drums and an almost Lloyd Cole vocal delivery. It’s the closest thing on the album to an arena anthem yet would also sound great being blasted out in an indie club.
‘Pez Dispenser’ has an almost Nine Inch Nails feel, and ‘Baked On The Freeway’ reminds me of Butthole Surfers meets Earthling-era-Bowie.
This Is Serious Business is a very engaging album and the Bumblefoot contributions will be of special interest to us guitar geeks.

NEWS: Dave Mustaine signature Marshall?

In an update on the Megadeth forums, mainman Dave Mustaine dropped what appears to be a hint about a possible signature Marshall amp in the near future. Dave has used Marshalls off and on throughout his career, when not using a Bogner Fish, Rocktron Prophecy, or most recently a custom, not-available-to-the-public Line 6 amp.

In the posting on megadeth.com about preparations for the band’s next album, which will be produced by Andy Sneap, Dave said: “On the tech side, I am going to be continuing on with my Dean VMNT’s as my guitar of choice, and I will be using my Signature GHS Dave Mustaine Progressives 10-52 gauge strings, Jim Dunlop Tortex picks and my signature Dave Mustaine Live Wires by Seymour Duncan, and DigiTech‘s killer GSP1101. I am proudly using Marshall Amplifiers and Cabinets, and boy do we have a surprise for you, but I will leave that up to the noble Marshall family to say.”

NEWS: Billy Sheehan Oz clinic tour

Bass god Billy Sheehan, he of the flowing blond mane, insane tapping licks and growly tone from albums by David Lee Roth, Talas, Mr Big, Steve Vai, Devil’s Slingshot, Niacin and about a billion more, is coming to Australia for a few clinics on behalf of Yamaha and Allans Music.
Billy has a new album coming out soon with some very special guests (including Paul Gilbert), and Devil’s Slingshot recently released their debut album, Clinophobia. The progressive metal band consists of Billy, guitarist Tony MacAlpine and Aussie drummer Virgil Donati, and for a time these three, with the addition of Dave Weiner, were Steve Vai’s backing band. You can see them in action on Vai’s Live At The Astoria DVD.
Billy has a rad new Yamaha bass to pimp, as you can see from the pic. This one reminds me of the bright pink Yamaha he used to play in the David Lee Roth days.
Dates are:
Melbourne: October 14, Allans Music, 152 Bourke St, City
Brisbane: October 16, Allans Music, 90-112 Queen Street Mall, City
Sydney: October 17, Allans Music, 228 Pitt Street, City

Tickets are $20 and available from Allans stores and online.

NEWS: Limted Edition Ibanez RG30AH

I just found this tucked away on the website of Melbourne msuic store Eastgate Music. A little while ago to not much fanfare, Eastgate posted about the forthcoming Ibanez RG30AH, a special version of the RG550 being released to celebrate 30 years of Ibanez availablity in Australia, where they are distributed by Australis Music. The guitars will feature a maple fretboard with a special Southern Cross star inlay, original Wizard neck shape and original Edge trem. They will be limited to 60 numbered pieces. Eastgate has pictures of the prototype, which has the old school Ibanez ‘swoosh’ logo, but the final version will have the Prestige logo instead. Recommended retail price is $2,495, and Eastgate will be getting 2, one of which is already sold, according to their website.
These look an awful lot like last year’s
RG550 20th anniversary reissue, which were built largely to 1987 specs but with improved neck construction and hotter versions of the original pickups. The 20th annversary version was available in black, desert sun yellow and roadflare red.
It seems more information about this limited edition guitar is very scarce. I’ve only found one other reference to it, from way back in March at the Ibanez Collectors website. If anyone’s seen these popping up in stores already, or if you have one, I’d love to hear about it.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have no association with Eastgate other than playing a bunch of guitars there and geeking out over Ibanez with them. If they happen to stumble across this page, hi guys! Hehe.

INTERVIEW: Cavalera Conspiracy

After a decade apart, Sepultura founding brothers Max and Igor Cavalera have reunited in The Cavalera Conspiracy, reviving the intricate thrash and crushing rhythms of Arise-era Sepultura with a modern brutality and ten years of growth on their debut album, Inflikted (Roadrunner).  

Peter: This band seemed to come out of nowhere. When did it start? 

Cavalera: I’ve been on this project now for the last two years, since I started talking to Igor again. I’ve been submerged with this thing from morning to night, 24 hours. I’m just very happy with it, man, I’m very proud of it. I like the attitude, the music, the visuals – It doesn’t look like all the shit that’s out there, y’know? I’m excited as hell to go on tour, and we’re really thrilled about the record. 

Peter: Did you get back into contact with the idea of playing together again, or was it about reestablishing the brotherhood first?  

Cavalera: My first approach with him was just to get back together as brothers, family, y’know, but once that was done my thing was, ‘Now that we’re brothers again, now that we’re family again, guess what: We need to play again.’ So that was the next move, and it was cool. We have a really cool chemistry together. It was perfect, really. It’s wild. It’s kind of surreal sometimes. Because it was so long ago and so much has happened in these 10 years, I’m glad we’ve restored our brother relationship. We grew up together in music. The first 20 years of my life playing music was with Igor, then there was a 10 year space where I continued making music but it was not the same. 
 
Peter: How have you changed musically in the time apart?  
 
Cavalera: Not a lot. I still play just 4 strings. I still don’t know the name of all the strings, and I still don’t tune my guitars. Igor noticed that right away: ‘Your shit’s still out of tune man! I can’t believe 10 years have gone by and your guitars are dirty still, you don’t clean them, they’re out of tune.’ And I say, ‘Well …(Woody Allen-style cough) I’m the same.’ And Igor’s pretty much the same. I noticed how much he’s matured as a drummer though. I always knew the double bass Igor, the crazy fills, but this was something else, kind of a Bill Ward, Bonham feel to it, where he can keep the shit as simple as possible but with a lot of power. It’s completely relentless, you can feel that drum beating you, punishing you.
 

Peter: The drums are mixed very in-your-face. Was that to say ‘Here’s Igor back’ or was it just the way it turned out?  

Cavalera: I was more in charge of the direction of songs, sonic ideas, themes and this and that. But Logan (Mader) as an engineer really knew the drums would be a huge thing on this project, and I think in his own way Logan made sure to record the drums the right way and mix it the right way, so when you listen to it the drums really jump out at you. It’s also a lot to do with the way Igor plays. He has this presence. I’ve toured with a lot of people, and the only other person with that kind of presence was Bill Ward when I did the Sabbath tour. One thing about Igor that a lot of people don’t know is that most of the time, the right stick is upside down, so he’s using the end of the stick, and that started in the Sepultura days. He said he wasn’t punishing the drums enough. It’s a very metal thing to do. The first day in the studio I was like, ‘Yeah, the upside down stick, crank it!’ 
 
Peter: So I guess that’s the secret to getting your sound is a guitar with 4 strings that’s out of tune, and an upside down drum stick. 
 
Cavalera: I was waiting for him to draw people he didn’t like on the toms, because he used to do that too. Bands that be ****ing with us on tour. Ministry was an example, they had a real asshole tour manager, he hated everybody, a miserable guy, and always talking shit about everyone. So Igor drew him on every drum skin, in many different ways – had him naked in one, had him dressed like a girl, and eventually he saw the drum kit and wanted to kill all of us. We didn’t give a shit, that’s the way we roll.  

Peter: Are you still playing your ESP signatures? 
 
Cavalera: Yep, the 4 string, out of tune. On the Conspiracy I’ve been using the AX shape signature model. It reminds me of my old BC Rich I used back in the Sepultura days, and we’re in the process of maybe making a new model, a 4 string model. I don’t know why I never thought of that before, actually made a 4 string guitar. It’s a big riff guitar. I love ESP, I love the guitars.

REVIEW: Extreme – Saudades de Rock

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

LINKS:

Extreme website
Extreme Myspace
Open E Records
Saudades de Rock at Amazon.com

Washburn Nuno Series N4ESA Electric Guitar Natural Matte

Washburn Nuno Series N4ESA Electric Guitar Natural Matte

Nuno Bettencourt signature series electric guitar with L500 and Seymour Duncan humbucking pickups, locking tremolo and the Buzz Feiten tuning system – Made in the USA. Includes GC31R hardshell case, a $130 value.