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.