Friday 21 July 2023

Extreme - Six (2023)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 9 Jun 2023
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I remember Extreme from back in the day, of course, because Get the Funk Out was a statement of change in rock music and it worked. Of course, More Than Words was a megahit and Extreme were on their way. Those songs were second album material and I remember III Sides to Every Story as a capable followup to Pornograffiti, but I lost track of them after that. I figured that they'd suffered the same fate as any mainstream rock band in the wake of grunge, but it seems like they knocked out one more album in 1995 before calling it a day a year later. I had no idea that they reformed in 2007 or that they put out a fifth album, Saudades de Rock in 2008. That was thirteen years on from its predecessor and this one arrives fifteen years after that.

So what are Extreme up to now? Well, this is a wild ride indeed, one that takes them to all sorts of new territory, as if they're deliberately trying to catch up with what the genre has done since they left it. Case in point: it starts heavy, as if they're no longer a hard rock band delving into metal but a bona fide metal band not losing their hard rock background. Rise and #Rebel are heavy songs in a grungy metal style, downtuned a lot further than ever before and with Pat Badger's bass much of the driving force. However, however much darkness that approach lends the sound, this is still a hard rock band singing catchy hard rock songs.

Banshee starts out the same way but transitions into something very different and far more like a sound we might expect from Extreme. In short, it struts like the sassiest Aerosmith way more than anything I've heard from Aerosmith of late. If the first two tracks are new school, then this is very much old school and Other Side of the Rainbow follows suit, channelling Queen not only through a soaring Gary Cherone vocal but through Nuno Bettencourt's acoustic guitar. I challenge you not to hear Aerosmith in the one and Queen in the other.

And then it's ballad time. There are two ballads here, Small Town Beautiful being a textbook song and Hurricane being much more, so much more that it's a clear highlight even though I'm rarely a fan of rock ballads. This one's a comfortable piece, full of introspective harmonies and eventually a swell of orchestration. There's folk in this one and country as well and it turns, of all things, into a Simon & Garfunkel style duet. And, just in case we thought they were softening up, Hurricane is followed by X Out, which is another highlight, arguably the best song on offer, but something very different indeed.

Extreme had flirted with industrial on an earlier song, Thicker Than Blood, which finds a vocal vibe somewhere between Rob Zombie and the Prodigy. The choruses are quintessential Extreme, right back to their funky metal origins. However, there's a lot more in X Out, which kicks off as staticky electronica, finds its crunch and then trawls in everything it can think of. For a while, it's almost a Led Zeppelin song remixed by a club DJ, but it finds the Eurythmics, the Communards and what I'd suggest might be Steve Vai playing for Rainbow. It ends up feeling rather epic and it was endlessly fascinating to me. I never knew where it was going but it feels somehow coherent even after going everywhere.

And, just in case you thought they'd hit their stride at tracks nine and ten, they follow up with the most unexpected song here, Beautiful Girls, which is pulsing reggae, with what I presume is a lead vocal from Carl Restivo, who certainly co-wrote the song. It's a good song, but it's a rock song like Michael Jackson's Beat It was a rock song because Eddie van Halen provided its guitar solo. And I should point out that Bettencourt's solo here feels rather like Eddie, clearly an homage to the late icon.

After that, the grand singalong of Here's to the Losers, with what might be a schoolyard choir, fails to shock. I'm not sure I can visualise a darkened arena full of lighters swaying to the title but, hey, it worked for Queen with We are the Champions. Cherone's delivrey of verses here does remind of Freddie Mercury, but only after evolving out of Bob Dylan. There's a lot here too, but it's easier to grasp and I'm not convinced it works, especially with all the self-congratulatory high fiving during the coda. Yay losers! Woo! Everything about X Out works and I keep finding more things that work on every subsequent listen.

And so, there's Six, which is a serious attempt from Extreme not only to be relevant but to leap on ahead of where the genre has got to while they've been absent. Not all of it works and not all of it works together, but it's a fascinating album that covers a lot of ground and, for the most part, has an absolute blast doing it. Rise and Hurricane don't feel like they belong on the same album, but I like both of them. The same goes for X Out and Beautiful Girls, but all four of these songs count as highlights for me. That's impressive and the fact that three of them are next to each other on the album is even more impressive. Welcome back, folks!

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