Extreme's music was never easy to classify, since it rarely confined itself to heavy metal, hard rock, or pop. The Massachusetts-based band formed in 1985; guitarist Nuno Bettencourt had already played in a local band with bassist Pat Badger, while singer Gary Cherone fronted his own group with drummer Paul Geary. The two bands eventually merged, and Cherone and Bettencourt formed a songwriting partnership that would soon place Extreme atop the Billboard charts, if only for a short period.
Coupling the technical proficiency of Bettencourt's guitar with a funky rhythmic base, the band issued a self-titled debut album in 1989. It peaked at number 80 -- a modest showing for a new, unseasoned band -- and the song "Play with Me" was used to orchestrate the chase scene during Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Extreme had begun to earn respect in the heavy metal world, but it wasn't until the arrival of the band's follow-up effort, Pornograffitti (particularly the the Everly Brothers-style acoustic ballad "More Than Words"), that a mainstream audience latched onto the group's sound. "More Than Words" became a number one hit, while its follow-up single, an acoustic-based pop/rocker titled "Hole Hearted," hit number four. Extreme were now one of the most popular acts in the pop-metal genre, but the looming arrival of grunge music -- not to mention the band's own shifting tastes -- combined to make Extreme's reign relatively short-lived.
The band's third album, III Sides to Every Story, was an ambitious effort whose sales (while strong at first) couldn't match those of Pornograffitti. Geary left the lineup soon after, seeking a career in music business instead, and a revised version of the band (featuring the percussion of Mike Mangini, formerly of Annihilator) returned in 1995 with Waiting for the Punchline. It, too, suffered from a lack of sales. Accordingly, Extreme's bandmates announced their breakup the following year. Bettencourt went on to launch a solo career and issued the Schizophonic album in 1997; he then released two additional albums with his band Mourning Widows. Meanwhile, Cherone enjoyed a brief stint as the vocalist for Van Halen. His one album with the band, 1998's Van Halen III, was slammed by critics and fans alike, resulting in poor sales and Cherone's speedy exit.
A 13-track best-of collection titled An Accidental Collision of Atoms kept Extreme's legacy alive in 2000, and the band quietly reunited in 2004 for a small series of shows. The reunion gigs continued into 2008, when a new album, Saudades de Rock, marked the group's first batch of new material in 13 years. It was followed by a lengthy tour, and the next few years saw the band continuing to write new material and tour occasionally, but between Bettencourt going on tour with Rihanna and Cherone's new project Hurtsmile, Extreme kept getting put on the sidelines. In 2016 the band released Pornograffitti Live 25: Metal Meltdown, an audio/video presentation of its 2015 concert at Las Vegas' Hard Rock Casino.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine