Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wild Wagener Week: Extreme: Good Band, Terrible Brand (Pornograffitti Review)

Lead singer Gary Cherone said this was a "concept album."  This is true if by "concept album" you mean "songs about fucking."
Gary Cherone said this was a "concept album." True if by "concept" you mean "songs about fucking."

In light of Decibel Geek's interview with super-producer Michael Wagener , I recently dusted off a copy of the Wagener produced Extreme II: Pornograffitti. 

I hadn't listened to the album in over a decade.  I was addicted to this album back in the day (great then, great now) and remember that I owned this album for over a year before the steaming turd of "More than Words" was unleashed on society.  This reminded me about the importance of branding.  The first impression you have with a product or service forms a basic framework and general expectation.  When any experience strays from that concept you become disenchanted and reject the product or service.  Let me give you an example.

Your brain formed an opinion and concept about Pepsi the first time you swilled down a bottle.  It was caramel in color, it had bubbles, it had a certain taste.   When you later tried Cherry Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Max, etc. they were all variations on the original idea.

This is why Crystal Pepsi was a complete failure.  Not only was it clear in color, it tasted exactly like a flat fucking Sprite.  Consumers were disinterested because the product did not contain any of the expected characteristics.   Truckloads of unsold product were sent back to the manufacturer and it was one of the most expensive marketing mishaps ever.

Why am I talking about carbonated beverages in an album review?  Because it's a perfect analogy to describe exactly what happened to Extreme when they released their queef of a single "More than Words."  This single created a false brand for consumers of what to expect from the band when they purchased Extreme II: Pornograffitti. It made them and destroyed them in the same instant.  

If I had a list of my most despised songs, "More than Words" would be at the number one position in bold, neon colored capital letters.  I do not use the word "hate" loosely and I fucking HATE that song for a multitude of reasons.  The only reason I even own a copy of Pornograffitti is because I never heard that song before I heard THE REST OF THE ALBUM. A friend of mine at school handed me his copy and said "Listen to this.  It fucking rocks, Van Halen style."  I had never heard of them before.  I was willing to give it a spin because of the following:

1.  The cover had a cartoon of a kid smoking in front of strip clubs.

2.  The songs had names like "Little Jack Horny" and "Suzi Wants her all Day Sucker."

3.  The album's title included the word "Porn."

All of these were positive signs.  The little kid even reminded me of the angel lighting up a Marlboro on the cover of Van Halen's 1984.  

I took it home and cranked my stereo.  My friend was right.  Guitarist Nuno Bettencourt  was a talented Eddie-style virtuoso with enough originality and restraint not to sound like a drunk bee (with exception of "Flight of the Bumblebee").  

It sounded like a hybrid of old and new school Van Halen; the music sounded like "Roth Era" and singer Gary Cherone was vocally similar to Hagar.   

The songs on Pornograffitti were infectious, the solos were great, and there were only a few weak moments on the album.   One was an odd Broadway-like song called "When I First Kissed you" and the other was a song that made me run across the run to hit the skip button on my CD player guessed it...... "More than Words."
Original Pornograffitti album cover

Before I continue, I need to explain that I don't dislike ballads in general.  Often, a great ballad can arguably be some of a bands best material.  I also like acoustic guitar.  Nirvana Unplugged, for example, not only contains the best versions of their songs, but is also one of my favorite albums PERIOD.  A song doesn't need screaming, layers of electric guitar, or even contain drums to make it powerful.  I say this because "More than Words" is a song that is stripped to its bare bones.  In essence, it could be great.  In reality, it was worse than Crystal Pepsi but gulped down by every teenage girl on the planet.  They drank it down, loved it, and bought Pornograffitti hoping that they would get more of the same but ended with odes to the art of hummers and masturbation - not that there's anything wrong with that.  Then Extreme released their second ballad "Hole Hearted," a song I do like but even more girls bought the album and became instantly disappointed.  There was no evidence on radio that this band actually owned amplifiers or could spell "R-O-C-K." 

Terrible branding. 

There was another reason that this band committed career suicide:

They were insane.

The first indication of this mental condition was the fact that they numbered their albums..... but still gave them titles.
It's Led Zeppelin II, not Led Zeppelin II: Heartbreaker

In an interview in 1991, lead singer Gary Cherone said that Pornograffitti was a concept album about an ambitious child who is led down a path of decadence, falls in love with a stripper, makes and looses a fortune, gets his heart broken, and left bitter and "Hole Hearted."  Wow. 

Mr. Cherone then promised that their next album, Extreme III:  III Sides To Every Story, would be an extremely ambitious album that told a story in a three act play.  Each act would progress into more intricate arrangements and the finale would involve a full orchestra.

This was one of the worst albums ever released, 80 minutes of painful prog rock schlock and the final nail in their confused coffin.  I bought the album the day of release and tried to sell it back for a couple bucks at my local used CD store later that week.  They already had 10 used copies and refused to take it from wouldn't even offer me 2 dollars.

"I want my 2 dollars!"

There were five CD stores on campus, and each location was flooded with used Pornograffitti and Extreme III CDs.

Just like Crystal Pepsi, it wasn't what people expected and it was returned to the manufacturer.  To this day -- if you can find a used CD store, look under section "E."  It's still chock full of Extreme.

To make people know they're still insane, in 2008 they released a new album called Saudades De Rock (without a Roman numeral) and have a  "Best Of" collection called An Accidental Collocation Of Atoms?*  Yes, the question mark is part of the title. 

Good band.  Terrible brand.  
* The title An Accidental Collocation Of Atoms? was eventually removed by an music executive who had a clue and the collection is now The Best of Extreme which contains all their "hits." Which means its a 2 song EP. 


1 comment:

Unknown said...

I disagree with a LOT of this post. But I do not disagree with the fact that "More Than Words" (and "Hole Hearted") ruined this band. I bought this album on the release date as I was already a fan. I got into the band with their debut. And THAT is where you REALLY hear the VH similarities. Now I had NO problem with "More Than Words" within the context of the album. It was nice to have a breather. It was even more stripped back than the other rock ballads we were becoming buried with. And Nuno still showcases exceptional 6-string talent on the track. Sadly, record companies had figured out that the ballad was the most commercially successful track and what used to be the 3rd single building a band up, was quickly becoming the lead off track so a band had no where to go but down. They also edited out much of that stellar fretwork of Nuno's. Still, I took great pleasure in imagining the "housewives" who bought Pornograffitti based on "More Than Words" being assaulted with the lead in of "Decadence Dance". To this day, I feel "More Than Words" is a quality song. Yet it is probably Extreme's "Cherry Pie", the song that came to erroneously define the band. If "More Than Words" had stayed an album-track it could have been a gem. And I am certain this was a record label decision, not a band one. At least it was not the lead off single....

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