Even with Top-40 success, Extreme holds fast to album rock identity

January 29, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Success, in the pop music world, is all relative. If your last few albums only sold 30,000 or 40,000 copies, cracking the 100,000 mark seems a major achievement.

If, on the other hand, your last album sold more than 4 million copies worldwide -- that is, if it sold as well as Extreme's "Pornograffitti" did -- everyone in the industry automatically expects that your new one will sell at least as well. And, because Extreme's latest album, "Three Sides to Every Story," hasn't done multiplatinum business right out of the box, there's been a lot of talk lately about the band's standing in the marketplace.

Needless to say, it's a real drag to be on the receiving end of that sort of music biz blather. Just ask Extreme's bass player, Pat Badger.

"Of course, with the big success of our last record, we and everybody else have that to compare it to," he says, speaking over the phone from his home in Boston. "So it's like, 'Why isn't this one selling as much as the last one?'

"But to be honest, it's gotten off to a better start than our last record. Because our last record had only sold a couple hundred thousand copies in its first seven months, and we've already gone gold [500,000 copies sold] with this record." So, technically, Extreme is actually ahead of the last album at this stage.

Besides, when you get right down to it, sales figures say less about the quality of the music than they do about the type of audience a band happens to be reaching. For instance, what put "Pornograffitti" over the top was "More Than Words," a lovely ballad that wasn't terribly typical of Extreme's songbook, but left the Top-40 set swooning.

"Obviously when you have a No. 1 Top-40 hit, that's where you sell millions of records," says Badger. "Top-40 radio is the format that sells a lot of records. The States is very much a singles-type market, where people really buy albums based on one song."

By contrast, the album rock market -- traditionally Extreme's bread and butter -- is very loyal, but not much help on the sales chart. "You can only sell so many records to that audience," he says. "They're the audience that'll come out to see you at shows and stuff, but won't necessarily buy a lot of records."

Obviously, Badger would like to see his band sell better -- that is how he makes his money, after all. But he really isn't too concerned with impressing Top-40 programmers, because he knows that the songs on "Three Sides" are better than the ones on "Pornograffitti."

"We've matured bit since 'Pornograffitti,' and we've expanded a bit too," he says. Not only are the musical structures more sophisticated, stretching from the Pink Floyd-style sonic theater of "Warheads" to the ambitious, album-closing suite, "Everything Under the Sun." Moreover, the band addresses a wide range of topics, from the pacifist sarcasm of "Rest in Peace" to the sly critique of paternalism called "Our Father."

Yet as pointed as these songs get, front man Gary Cherone always avoids seeming preachy or pedantic. "That's just the way Gary has of writing lyrics," says Badger. "It's like he's singing about these things, but a little bit vaguely, you know? Not saying this is the way it should be, but offering it as food for thought.

"And he doesn't like to explain them," Badger adds. "Because they might mean something different to other people -- even to the band. I mean, we don't all have the same opinion about the things he writes about. So he spends a lot of time thinking about the way he's going to say things and put things so that he doesn't scare anybody off.

"And Gary wants his lyrics to stand on their own, he doesn't like to explain them. So a lot of times, he doesn't talk about those things."

By contrast, guitarist Nuno Bettencourt "is very outspoken," says Badger. "He's always saying stuff that's a little bit on the edge or controversial. And with his good looks, being the type of pinup quote-unquote poster guy, he's got that market covered, too. To top it all off, he's also a really respected guitar player. Even before we had success with singles or anything like that, he was on the cover of all these guitar magazines."

So the rest of the band is insanely jealous, right?

Badger just laughs. "His success is all our success. And the press just helps us keep it going on."

Extreme

When: At 8 p.m. Monday.

Where: Lyric Opera House

Tickets: Sold out.

5) Call: (410) 685-5086 for information.

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