The summer of 1992, when Extreme’s Three Sides to Every Story came out, I was fifteen and a sophomore in high school. The album, compared with its multi-platinum predecessor Pornograffiti, sold only 700,000 copies and was largely considered a commercial failure. But that deserves some context. We all know that Pornograffiti’s sales were inflated by the presence of “More Than Words” and that Extreme was never as popular or as well known as that song made it seem like they were, or were ever going to be. So I’d argue that Three Sides was about as successful as it could have been.
For subtle cultural and aesthetic reasons we don’t have time to explore here, Extreme was never a “cool” band. Liking them was never trendy the way it could be trendy to like, say, Bob Marley or Led Zeppelin or Sonic Youth. But their music is refined, political, expert, forward thinking, and light years ahead of a lot of the hair bands they’re often lumped in with. They’re exactly what they want to be. And their listeners are devoted. Extreme, and Three Sides to Every Story, taught me to never be ashamed of what you love. Or at least to try never to be.
Oh, and Nuno Bettencourt is the most criminally underrated rock guitarist of all time.
We drove down to Florida that spring break my sophomore year. My dad and stepmom were in one van, and me and my brother and our two best friends, Ray and Chuck, were in another. The drive took two days. We were surburban white kids in 1992 and the soundtrack was as such. But we were also musicians, guitar players, who liked to geek out on the music, and we spun a lot of Extreme on that trip, trying to decide what Nuno’s most insane licks were.
But Nuno is not just a technical wizard. Three Sides to Every Story is actually a concept album, broken into three sections named “Yours,” “Mine,” and “The Truth” that explores politics, love, and God in equal measure. As I listened, I marveled at how complete the music was, how tender, and expertly made.
That trip, and the sound of that album coming out of the van’s shitty speakers, is cemented in my memory as the last good time that quartet had. Six months later, Chuck was diagnosed with cancer, and eighteen months later he was dead and our best memories were forever relegated as past events.
Chuck was kind of like Extreme, actually. Not really “cool” but possessed of a fierce individuality that was beautiful, especially to those who knew and loved him. The rest missed out.
I abandoned Extreme in my twenties when I got heavily into jazz and re-embraced them a couple of years ago. I hadn’t heard Three Sides in a long time and it sounded as good as it ever had, even plagued by early-nineties production, which rendered it a little thin and all but bass-less.
The album makes me think of friends. Of great guitar players. Of being underrated and what a beautiful thing that can be.