Sound: After seeing guitarist Nuno Bettencourt scoff at the idea an Extreme reunion on the VH1 reality special Bands Reunited, it was a little surprising when the band announced in 2007 they would be going on a world tour. But the past seems to be indeed the past, and the band has been going full-force since that odd little TV appearance. This August marks the release of the new album Saudades de Rock, which involves the classic lineup except for Paul Geary, who was replaced by Kevin Figueiredo. The 13-track CD is at times a true blast from the past, with the classic Extreme sound that prevailed during the 1990s popping up in many of the tracks. At the same time, the band has made no secret of wanting to experiment with different styles and sounds, and those musical risks (although not really that outlandish) don't always pan out.
The opening track Star does indeed shine, particularly if you're a fan of songs like Decadence Dance or Kid Ego. It very much has that kind of sound, with a funky, infectious guitar intro from Bettencourt that is so solid that it can carry the entire song. Vocalist Gary Cherone proves early on that 13 years passing hasn't altered his vocal strength in any way. A Cappella harmonies kick off the song, and it's a fitting start given that pretty much every song is chock full of vocal layering. The energy from Star carries over to the next few tracks as well, with the bluesy Comfortably Dumb and riff-driven Learn To Love maintaining the momentum.
Things go a little awry with the ballads that are sprinkled throughout Saudades de Rock. Not everyone necessarily liked More Than Words back in the day, but it still was a beautifully arranged song. On the new album, we don't get that honest simplicity featured in More Than Words. The track Last Hour recalls more of a 1950's ballad, which is fine, but it never evolves into something that interesting. Interface does have some emotional moments lyrically, and it actually begins with just an acoustic and vocals. It probably would have made more of an impact had the band decided to strip it down like More Than Words, but when the full band joins in, it loses something in the process and ends up sounding like any song on the radio.
Some have said that Extreme has dived into the experimental deep end recently, but there really isn't anything completely avant-garde on the new album. There might be some country inspiration on Take Us Alive or even a bit of a hippie vibe on Peace (Saudade), but the vast majority of tracks do sound like Extreme thanks to Bettencourt's killer, funky riffs around every corner. // 8
Lyrics: Extreme has always been reliable in the lyrical department, with more than a few clever lines in each track. Star, which seems to hearken back to Kid Ego, includes lyrics like, Tinsel town callin' your name; Penny in your pocket; Walkin' like a prophet; A fortune teller claimin' your fame; Arrivin' in style on the red carpet mile. The cynicism-tinged lyrics work perfectly for Cherone's theatrical delivery, and he certainly is able to convey each line's meaning. Things go a little sour in Peace (Saudade), which just feels a little too much like it's trying to be a modern-day Give Peace A Chance. While it's a novel approach, it also feels a bit preachy at times. // 9
Overall Impression: Some younger listeners may not have had much of an opportunity to hear Extreme's older material, and the new album is a pretty suitable introduction. There is no shortage of Nuno Bettencourt's crazy-good riffs or Gary Cherone's melodramatic, yet strong vocals, not to mention the fact that there are funky rock tunes a-plenty. Saudades De Rock runs into some issues when it takes itself a bit too seriously. Certain songs go on way too long and attempt to have an epic feel, but only end up sounding repetitive. The vast majority of tracks, however, are solid rock tracks never let up on the groove. // 8