Quick, who’s the most ambitious man in rock? If we’re talking about artistic ambition, this week’s gold medal goes to Nuno Bettencourt, guitarist and all-around musical guru of Extreme, the hard-rock band that broke through to mainstream glory last year with a sweet Beatle-esque acoustic tune called ”More Than Words.”
Now Extreme is reaching for Mount Rushmore with III Sides To Every Story, on which it offers hard-rock attacks on war and racism, soft, lush songs about love and alienation, and a concluding three-part cantata (a tribute to ’70s art-rock bands like Kansas and Yes) about spiritual rebirth. Bettencourt not only spins dizzying solos and crunches inexhaustible riffs behind lead vocalist Gary Cherone’s clear-as-a-bell singing, he also cowrote every song, and produced and seamlessly blended a full symphony orchestra into the final trilogy.
He can be proud, up to a point. III Sides is a masterpiece of musical craft, full of the finely wrought detail — new colors, sudden changes in texture, melodies spawning surprising new versions of themselves — that you’d normally find only in classical works. Half the tracks are instantly memorable, full of hooks that still seem fresh the 10th time you hear them.
But with melodies far less lucid than those in the other songs, the art-rock finale sounds willful, even puffy. Worse, the album’s well-intentioned lyrics — ”I read the news today oh boy/About a tragic comedy” — come off as derivative and far too naive. Bettencourt and Extreme grasp at far more than they yet can reach. Rich as their record is, it falls heart-stoppingly short of the band’s lofty goals. B+