CLASSIX REVIEW: Extreme’s Pornograffitti

Pornograffitti is an infinitely listenable and technically marvelous album that still holds up to this day, nearly 30 years later.

Extreme is a hard rock band from Boston Massachusetts. They’re generally considered one of the later members of the 80’s hair metal movement, though the majority of their success came in the 1990’s and saw them mixing elements of alternative and grunge rock into their work.   They debuted in 1989 with a self-titled LP after signing with A&M Records. The album found some mild success in the US and was enough to justify a follow up the following year, originally titled Extreme II: Pornograffitti, but eventually shortened to simply Pornograffitti. The album’s leading singles struggled to gain traction, as did the album upon initial release, but after the band released “More Than Words,” as a single, only to have it jet to number one on the billboard charts, they took off in the mainstream. Pornograffitti went double platinum receiving near universal acclaim, and for good reason.

While the album is obviously dripping with hair metal indulgence, there’s an often understated amount of genre crossing as well. “Get the Funk Out,” features a full horn section and heavy funk and Motown influences, while “When I First Kissed You,” is a Sinatra-esque croon that, while slightly tongue in cheek, hits most of the beats of the genre. The album as a whole utilizes musical tricks like syncopation from outside the metal genre to give the songs a more danceable quality.

There’s also a fairly large instrumental pallet on this album. “Li’l Jack Horny,” brings brass instrumentation into the fold in a more subtle way than “Get the Funk Out,” by using the power to bolster the guitar on the choruses. Additionally, the acoustic guitar on the closer, “Hole Hearted,” is an excellent change of pace at the end of the fairly long runtime.

Lyrically, there’s a certain sardonic comedy in much of Extreme’s writing that is somewhat ahead of its time. “When I’m President,” for example, is darkly comical, playing the large problems faced by the world as small and easily solved issues. The plan laid out for peace in the Middle East is particularly hilarious. “Money,” on the other hand, mocks the modern materialist culture quite effectively, especially with the tooth fairy skit intro.

The bass and drums, while often ignored when discussing this record, are actually quite excellent. On some of less flashy cuts like “Suzi,” or “It,” it really becomes clear that Paul Geary and Pat Badger are giving it there all on drums and bass respectively. The drums are relatively simple but perfectly mixed and explosively played, while the bass is rattling and adds a lot by simply following the guitar riffs.

Of course, Gary Cherone’s vocal work just can’t be ignored. On each of the 13 tracks, he really lays it all out in each performance, creating an exciting experience. Not only is he able to absolutely wail on songs like the title track, where his efforts rival that of even the best long-haired, metal icons from the 80’s, but he’s extremely versatile. On a song like “More Than Words,” it’s precisely Cherone’s ability to switch gears that makes it all work.

Above all this, however, Pornograffitti is an absolute master class of electric guitar from one of the best instrumentalists who ever lived, Nuno Bettencourt. Of course there are face-melting solos on nearly every track, one of my favorites of which comes near the end on “Song for Love,” but Nuno’s true talent comes in laying of extremely complex and lightning fast riffs across every song. Tracks like the opener, “Decadence Dance,” or my personal favorite piece, “He-Man Woman Hater,” live and die by Bettencourt’s excellent ear for melody and his undeniable ability to deliver each riff with precision and excitement.

As it nears its 30th anniversary, Extreme’s sophomore effort is every bit as incredible as it was on release. It’s drenched in 80’s attitude and indulgence while simultaneously featuring some of the most proficient and creative instrumental work of the 1990’s. The release fell at an odd time for rock music, just months before the grunge movement would take shock the world and transform the rock landscape, and because of this, it is all too often forgotten. It shouldn’t be.

Pornograffitti is an infinitely listenable and technically marvelous album that still holds up to this day, nearly 30 years later.

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Valentines Day Special: My Five Favorite Love Songs

DISCLAIMER: These are my favorite love songs, not “the best love songs of all time.” There’s been hundreds of thousands of love songs written, and I won’t even attempt to rank them.

Journey“Faithfully”

One of the most famous rock bands of all time, Journey brought stadium rock roaring into the mainstream in the late 1970’s. Their eighth studio album, Frontiers went six times platinum in 1983 and is considered a rock n’ roll classic. Of the many fantastic cuts on the album is the grade school dance anthem of the early 80’s, “Faithfully.”

Rumored to have been written on a paper napkin while riding in a tour bus, the track chronicles the struggles of being on the road and leaving a significant other at home. The lyrics are simple, but well written but it’s Steve Perry’s iconic lead vocal and the anthemic instrumentation that makes the track what it is. It’s one of the most singable rock songs of all time and an undeniable classic.

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit“If We Were Vampires”

Leave it to Jason Isbell to take something like love and use it to make us all sad. “If We Were Vampires,” comes from his third and best studio album with his 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound. He’s joined by his wife and fellow americana songwriter, Amanda Shires, on harmony and Jason’s simple guitar is the song’s only instrumentation.

Lyrically, the track is a brilliant exploration of love as an idea, what it means, and what gives it that meaning. He speaks on the sadness of knowing that his life will one day end, as will his wife’s, and yet he understands that it is this very fact, that of having an end in sight, that gives love its meaning. Jason has chosen to spend what limited time he has here loving his wife. It’s one of the best pieces of lyricism of all time and a starkly beautiful message on the meaning of love.

Adam Sandler“Grow Old with You”

In contrast to the unique and nuanced lyricism of many tracks on this list, “Grow Old with You,” is nothing if not simple. The musical climax of Sandler’s 1998 rom-com classic, the short and sweet track features only an acoustic guitar and Sandler’s surprisingly heartfelt vocals. In the movie, the song is sung to Drew Barrymore on a plane and features an enjoyable cameo from Billy Idol, but much of the appeal of the song comes from its universality.

At its core, the song is meant to be a promise of a good life. One by one, Adam Sandler rattles off all the little things he can do to make a life spent with him even better, from “let me do the dishes in our kitchen sink,” to “even let you hold the remote control.” Its simple but meaningful in the sense that it recognizes something about love that other songs don’t. While tracks like Journey’s “Faithfully,” wax poetic about the power of love, “Grow Old with You,” understands that a relationship is a collection of little moments and it sweetly promises to make each one of those little moments joyful.

Extreme“More Than Words”

One of the most underrated bands of the early 1990’s, Extreme is traditionally a hard rock/hair metal band from Boston. While the entirety of their early catalog is excellent, their 1990 sophomore release, Pornographiti is an absolute classic. In the center of a glamorous, thrashing record, guitarist Nuno Bettencourt switches to an acoustic guitar and out comes the band’s biggest hit, “More Than Words.”

The song is fairly simple, focusing on the inability of the classic three words to express the complexities of love itself. Instead, our protagonist asks his love to express her feelings physically rather than through words alone. While the concept is rather cliche’d, it’s the smooth performance from vocalist Gary Cherone and Bettencourt’s incredible guitar abilities that set this song apart and make it one of my favorite love songs of all time.

Cast of Moulin Rouge“Your Song”

A massive hit from Elton John’s self-titled second album, “Your Song,” was already engrained in American culture as a great love song when it was chosen as a centerpiece track for Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 jukebox musical, Moulin Rouge. Elton’s version is a classic as is, but for my personal taste, I think the Moulin Rouge ensemble adds a certain breadth to what was a very stripped back song in the beginning.

The full orchestra backing this version helps quite bit as the string section is plays sweetly and gently and the overwhelming power of a full orchestra is able to bring the track to an almost overwhelming climax. Over this very impressive instrumental, Ewan McGregor give a shockingly powerful performance with his lack of musical experience aiding him in finding a clean and very technical sound which expresses his character quite well. Ultimately, Moulin Rouge is a wonderfully indulgent film and this track is one of it’s most enjoyable moments.