Wednesday, 7 November 2012
100 LPs Shortlist #22: Extreme - "3 Sides To Every Story"
1992 - I was 16, in year 11 at high school. Hormones were running riot and playing havoc with my emotions. Extreme was part of the perfect soundtrack for my life at the time.
I discovered the band through a mate of mine about 18 months before this album was released, with their second LP "Pornograffiti", and along with this album, the follow-up 3rd LP, I played the hell out of these two albums, and continued to well into the mid-1990s when I really went off this style of rock and went more alternative.
I've discussed "Pornograffitti" in depth here. "III Sides to Every Story" was a concept album in an era where the term "concept album" was a dirty word. It carried the connotations of pretentiousness and of a sort of artistic snobbery. Of course, it's hard to dispel a notion like that when the concept of the record is so intellectually heavy and problematic from the outset. As such it's probably the one of their original releases that has dated quite horribly in the ensuing years.
The album deals with the concept of war, all the while employing the idea that there is "three sides to every story". In this case there is "Yours", "Mine" and "The Truth".
"Yours" comes from the side of those with the money, and of course the governments and the dyed-in-the-wool servicemen who love what they do. It tries to state their point of view - that peace is futile, war protesters are really fence-sitters, war advances and protects America's overseas interests and provides profits for those who provide the weapons to the forces. Therefore it must be good, right?
The "Mine" side begins at track 7, after more than 30 minutes of thumping rock to state the case of the "Yours" side. The music, understandably, is mellower and more melodic, and it deals with the issues that surround families and those left behind by people who serve in combat.
Finally, "The Truth" is dished up in an extravagant 21 and a half minute, three-part suite, ostensibly adding an element to the argument from the viewpoint of our heavenly father.
Heavy stuff, hey? Phew! And we haven't even started to talk about the music yet.
"Yours" starts off out of the blocks with "Warheads", some solid rocking happening here. Then they introduce their groove riffing on "Rest In Peace" which is a great track. They tried this one out as a single - not a good choice, as it is more of a set piece within the concept.
Track 3 "Politicalamity" has a hard enough title to say let alone to try and explain it - the concept starts to unravel here by trying to be too clever
Track 4 "Colour Me Blind" is a track about tolerance and equality that really belongs somewhere after track 8 in the "Mine" section.
Next is "Cupid's Dead", another set piece that is weighty in its concept but with a tight, taut groove to it. It falls flat in the last section when they introduce a rap section.
"Peacemaker Die" spells out what a lot of arch-conservatives must think sometimes but are too afraid to say in a public forum. It becomes totally overblown and also a bit tasteless when they juxtapose Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech over a chorus of "Peacemaker Die, Peacemaker Die".
Track 7 starts off the "Mine" section. "Seven Sundays" is a gorgeous song but it is ruined with horrible synthetic strings and a horrible sounding digital piano. It tells of soldiers hanging out with their loved ones on their days off. The awful keyboards just ramp up the cheese factor.
Track 8 is a track called "Tragic Comic" which I have always found to be trite at best. The less said, the better.
Track 9 is "Our Father" which is a great punchy rocker, bittersweet in its subject matter by echoing the words of a child watching his/her father go off to war. It is genuinely quite touching.
Track 10, "Stop The World" gets philosophical and ponderous, and if it wasn't for some beautiful guitar playing it'd be unbearable.
Track 11 "God Isn't Dead?" is melodramatic in the extreme (no pun intended). Real piano and real strings this time (did the budget for these run out when recording "Seven Sundays"???) It is quite magniloquent but also quite beautiful. Strange combination!
Track 12 on the Cassette and vinyl is missing on the Cd as it makes the album too long for one disc, but it is a track called "Don't Leave Me Alone" which at almost 6 minutes only adds to the bloatedness of the album proper. It's already bloated enough as it is! Adding it in to the album now through the magic of MP3 and it kills the flow of the record.
And now, onto "The Truth", a lushly orchestrated 3 part suite starting with a languid piece called "Rise and Shine" with some rather awkward lyrics ("A song for love, even abhor"???) but then again, there's time for everything under the sun, right?
Part two is where things get serious. Never before has a song about soul searching and meta-cognition been so strident and yet catchy! "Am I Ever Gonna Change" is indeed a great track but at least it turns the spotlight on oneself, thus giving the opportunity for a bit of humility to be demonstrated.
Part Three is called "Who Cares?" and this is where we get really lofty. You're always on shaky artistic ground whenever you try to put words into God's mouth. I don't think they really hit the mark here. Although, other bands have done this subject matter in less overblown styles and have had more impact. At over 8 minutes it gets tedious being lectured to after a while. The question of "Who Cares?" is never resolved in the song by the way, but it kind of hints towards an obvious answer...
Extreme always had a capacity to be grand in the way they made records, and their second album backed up their ambition with great songs and a tightly focussed narrative. "3 sides..." has good intentions but is a bit of a muddled overblown mess. There's some great music here but sometimes it's hard work finding the gems among the swathes of bombast that surrounds them. The concept gets lost when its on CD because it is clear that it should be on 3 sides of vinyl, with a defined break in between. But then, even on vinyl they didn't even get it right.
No matter what your opinion is, or mine for that matter. The truth is that the record buckles under the weight of its own pretensions. I highly doubt I thought about it quite like that as a teenager, but that's the view I have given 20 years of distance from it.
Anyway, take a listen and make up your own mind. There's still a lot of good songs here. Enjoy!