Fifteen years after the Boston funk-metal band’s last release, Extreme has returned with an LP bursting with mischievousness, heart, and some new experimental devices to mix into their whirlwind of hard rock. The album’s strongest tenet being the band’s staple ballad-rock style demonstrates that, despite Extreme existing as a project renowned for reinvention and discovery, sometimes obligatory experimentation is just unnecessary.
Extreme’s rip-roaring hard rock crush takes centre stage in the album’s first quarter, with opener ‘Rise’ arriving with a fiery and rejuvenated flash as an arena anthem. Riding hot on the tail of this, ‘#Rebel’ accelerates with an even more ambitious and defiant display of eruptive riffs from Nuno Bettencourt and stellar vocals from Gary Cherone, just before Banshee swoops in and delivers an array of chunky guitar pursuits with a glossy, gliding chorus. Paths are rerouted into acoustic ballad territory, but the changeover sinks in gracefully; ‘Other Side of the Rainbow’ gleams with sensational choral harmonies and a delightfully bright jangle to its guitar melody, and ‘Small Town Beautiful’ showcases the band’s ability to explore more tender, personal topics. A great effort is made to win over the hearts of hard and classic rock fans, in addition to listeners who adore earnest tracks that feel smaller in scale, but much more extensive in their ability to emphasize emotional beats. This aspiration is met well, with each track feeling momentous and successful in achieving its own goal.
‘Other Side of the Rainbow’ gleams with sensational choral harmonies and a delightfully bright jangle to its guitar melody
Bettencourt’s phenomenal fretboard proficiency is on top form as expected, but takes less of a spotlight throughout, with the most spectacular bursts of excellence appearing as solos. The guitar icon hasn’t lost a drop of the energy that made his fretboard wizardry as infectious as it was in the 1990’s, however, the guitarwork that lays the foundation for most of ‘Six’ is surprisingly streamlined for Bettencourt. What it lacks in exploration it makes up for with a weighty, solid approach to melody, with snappy acoustic motifs and an overdrive-rich rush. It’s a surprise that the reigns are pulled back, but the restraint is measured in a way that doesn’t inhibit the snazzy and swift parade forward. Bettencourt’s time served as the guitarist for pop sensation Rhianna clearly informed his decision to focus more on melodic licks in a brighter tone, and it’s a refreshing change from albums prior. In conjunction with this, as always, Cherone’s vocals are a delight, never shying away from the apexes, but still retaining a cool composure that is as nimble as it is delicate.
It’s the latter half of ‘Six’ that bats into an experimental field of rock, and when it comes to the success rate of these evolutions, the results vary. Extreme season in a mismatched series of musical devices, with electronic bass thumps clashing against awkward vocal melody swings – ‘Thicker Than Blood’ serves as a prime exhibit of this. Bettencourt’s bizarre southern American accent impersonation also raises eyebrows throughout ‘The Mask’, another choice that establishes a dubious tone that doesn’t bind well with the other elements. The zaniness of prior tracks subsides, however, as the calming track ‘Hurricane’ threads gentle melodies with its subdued, silky sweep forwards.
Tropical travel-romance tune ‘Beautiful Girls’ cools off amidst the other tracks, with its theme (as the title wears on its sleeve) being slightly superficial, if not very dated for 2023. Despite a flirtation with being the kind of heartthrob candy that could be quickly forgotten after just a couple of rotations, the track possesses an intense catchiness; Bettencourt’s upbeat chord strums never wear thin, and his harmonies with Cherone dish up a fantastic, velvety hook. The track does serve as a celebration of feminine beauty, and evidently arrives with heartfelt intentions – it’s just a slight lapse in judgment that this had to take form through a buffet of lyrics oriented around physical beauty alone. The result is an infectious track that is held back only by its reliance on some of the more tiresome tropes of the 1980s hair-metal, lust-obsessed hallmarks that Extreme adores to take inspiration from.
Despite a flirtation with being the kind of heartthrob candy that could be quickly forgotten after just a couple of rotations, the track possesses an intense catchiness
The primary drawback of ‘Six’ exists in the form of the experimental departures that the band incorporate, which by no means sink the ship, but do waterlog the stride at times with their confusing tone. Extreme has always been lauded for its mastery of mixing heaviness with melody, but the new components (especially the electronic aspects) feel contrived and grind against the flow of each track with their poor production quality. Bettencourt produced ‘Six’ in his home studio, and whilst he captures the crunchiness of his guitar and clarity of Cherone’s vocals with enough precision, the electronic additions drift along in the mix, swirling into a murky and shallow mess. What separates ‘Six’ from being merely a serviceable addition to Extreme’s discography, however, is the asset that creeps under the immediate fireworks of the band’s ebullient and roguish allure: their heart. Much like their previous album entries, there is a sincerity that flourishes with each track – the smorgasbord of romance, adventure and self-discovery-inspired themes that the band tackle all possess integrity.
‘Six’ offers just enough of everything to leave Extreme fans with a smile. Its moments as a thumping hard rock beast (much like the gorilla brooding on the album cover) can be lauded for their own merit in capturing the decadence and glamour of their previous works, albeit in a much more simplified and lean manner. Its moodier tracks struggle to compete, leaving the best highlights to be the album’s acoustic ballads, with motivational closer ‘Here’s To the Losers’ epitomizing the fact that the funk-metal outfit’s greatest muscle is still their ability to craft intimate songs with massive emotional scope. These highs really do capture Extreme’s charm, and consolidate the fact that despite a much more condensed approach, their songwriting craft at its core is still superb. As the final track declares, sometimes it’s about just getting back into the ring and giving it another shot, and whilst not every swing scores points, the majority hit the mark.