III Sides To Every Story is the 1992 album by rock band Extreme, the album which fans of the band generally regard as the pinnacle of their recorded output.

When I think of III Sides, I feel so happy, in that joyful, punching-the-air kind of way. If you ask me what my favourite album of all time is, the first thing that comes to mind is III Sides, every time. It's funny, because the very next thing that pops into my mind is a guilty, "Yeah, but, y'know, what about Achtung Baby? You shed blood for that album..." And in those following seconds, I pause and wonder, do I really love III Sides more than anything else - more than AB? Then I think again about III Sides, and my heart does a mini-burst, and I usually go and put on III Sides and just sink into the happiness.

I first heard III Sides back in 93, on the year 12 camp. My new friends Gug and Mab, the two guys I'd located in my class who, like me, played the guitar, and worshipped guitar heroes, had just acquired the album on cassette.

I remember one of our first discussions, they were like, "Who is the greatest guitarist?" and I was like, "Steve Vai!" as if to say, "What a stupid question! Of course it's Steve Vai. Haven't you heard Passion and Warfare?" And they were like, "Nuno Bettencourt. Extreme. Yeah, Vai is brilliant, and Passion is phenomenal, but Nuno has real heart - he doesn't rely so much on special effects." And I just couldn't understand how these guys, who were the coolest kids in the school - the coolest people I had ever met - were so hung up on what I perceived to be a pretty dodgy hair metal band from the turn of the decade. I rated Extreme along with Warrant and Ratt and Poison and Skid Row and that crowd. More Than Words is a pretty song, no doubt, but had they seen that video? I loved the guitar in Play With Me on the Bill and Ted soundtrack, but I'd tried Pornograffitti on for size, and remained unmoved. Yet these guys were not backing down.

I still don't think Nuno is the greatest. I rate him equally with Steve Vai now. The cooling of my character, however, has caused me to realise how utterly fantastic The Edge is. And I'll leave that at that. The subject of this writeup is not Nuno Bettencourt, but III Sides To Every Story, the album that changed everything for me.

Of course, it didn't change everything for me. But you know when you're 17, how things that, ten years later, look pretty insignificant, seem at the time to be earth-shattering? I must have listened to that album at least once a day for a year or two. I have been prone to exaggeration in my time - I will be the first to admit that - but that previous statement is no exaggeration. I breathed this album. As did my peers who were similarly bowled over by it. I remember us toting a little battery-powered tape player around school, so that we could listen to half a minute of the album between classes, on our way from one classroom to another. Everyone around us was influenced. People who didn't like Extreme - didn't even care that much for pop music, in some cases - caught the fever and got to the know the album by some sort of osmosis. We used to sing the guitar parts softly at the back of the class while the teacher was talking. Everyone I know who gets this album really has some sort of love affair with it.

And there are so few of us. The album stiffed, relatively. That is, it stiffed concerning sales and the charts. I think it hit number 10 or something on Billboard for a week or two, and sold several million. But it quickly faded from view, because it was just too grand for Joe Average. Pornograffitti had sold in excess of 10 million copies on the strength of the ballad More Than Words - what did all those buyers think when they heard the rest of that pop-metal album? - and the comparisons were inevitable. I think the reception of III Sides killed the band eventually. How does it feel when you expose your heart to your lover, only for them to trample all over it? Pretty bad, I would say. So it went with III Sides. III Sides is really just such a majestic album, cinematic, with such amazing depth and breadth. It's the culmination of all that went before it, the distillation of a bunch of ideas that had been percolating for years, brought together at the right time, in the right place - the musicians at the right stages in their lives, the production perfect, the resources up to the task of meeting the artist's vision. It all ties together lyrically, from the album title to the division into three parts to the lyrics themselves. Each song's lyrics are married perfectly to music that came into existence for that song, and that song only. The songs in each section belong together, but cover a broad spectrum of ideas, both musically and lyrically. I'm thinking Dark Side of the Moon here, folks.

III Sides To Every Story: Yours, Mine and The Truth. Ha! The killer punchline. So, something happens between you and me, and we cannot agree on what exactly did happen. Why? Because our perceptions are shaped by our biases, our experiences, our memories, our beliefs, our ignorance, our desires, our mental states, and any number of other factors. There are some pitiable, misguided fools out there who think III Sides is a pile of rubbish, one of those great 'failed' albums. They actually believe that! I think you all know where I stand on the issue. So who is right? Neither of us, really, apparently, according to this philosophy. Somewhere out there is THE TRUTH. The actual record of events, measured against all other events. On Judgment Day, apparently, we will not need to have any more polls conducted by Q magazine or whoever regarding which truly is the greatest album of all time - God will decisively announce the winner, and that will be the end of it all. I'm rooting for III Sides, but I'm a realist enough to know I'm in a minority there.

Anyway, the point is, three sides to every story. Actually, the point is, any number of sides to every story as related by humans - just not two. It's just the golden rule, really, putting yourself in someone else's shoes, trying to understand that your perception of the universe may not yet be complete.

Yours
1. Warheads
2. Rest In Peace
3. Politicalamity
4. Color Me Blind
5. Cupid's Dead
6. Peacemaker Die
Mine
7. Seven Sundays
8. Tragic Comic
9. Our Father
10. Stop The World
11. God Isn't Dead
The Truth
Everything Under The Sun
12. Rise n' Shine
13. Am I Ever Gonna Change
14. Who Cares?

This is concept album bliss. I mentioned Dark Side before. You know how the dark side of the moon is an analogy for madness, and Roger wrote a song cycle about the things that have the potential to drive the modern Englishman to madness - the shortness of life, the way time runs away from us, the fear of death, the love of money, the threat of war, the beckoning call of mass-consumerism, the shallowness of politics, and the feeling that there's no point, really, everything under the sun has already been done, and anyway, even the sun is eclipsed by the moon. That's Dark Side in a nutshell. The album sold so well, partly because David Gilmour and Rick Wright made it sound so good, but also because the lyrical concepts were so universal - so everyman.

III Sides is sort of like a look at life from a personal point of view: looking out at the world (yours), looking around at relationships (mine), looking inward to God (the truth). I don't know why, like Dark Side, the album didn't sell a gazillion copies. It has everything. Everyone should love it, really. I blame snobbery, partly. After all, even I get embarrassed when I tell people that my favourite album is by a band named Extreme. The Beatles eventually transcended the silliness of their name and now when you think Beatles, you think respect and giants and rock and Abbey Road and so on. Extreme have had no such fortune. Most people don't know who Extreme were, but they sure think it sounds like a novelty band or something. Those who do remember Extreme, tend to remember More Than Words. It's even harder to get through to those folk.

Actually, I've developed quite the non-confrontational attitude over the years, and so I don't actually try to get through to anybody anymore. I have long realised that I cannot accurately impart to anyone - not even to God, although he does know, somehow - exactly how I feel. In fact, the only way I am able to compose this writeup is to act as if it's a given that III Sides is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and operate as much as possible from that blinkered point-of-view. Usually, I'm like, "Who gives a fuck what anyone else thinks? I like it. Phil likes it. I can go talk to him about it whenever I like, and get my love for it out into expression. If anyone else is gonna discover it, they will, somehow."


Section-by-section

Yours

1. Warheads
2. Rest In Peace
3. Politicalamity
4. Color Me Blind
5. Cupid's Dead
6. Peacemaker Die

These songs under the heading Yours are about the world around, as the writers see it. Warheads takes the piss out of rednecks clamouring for...uh...war. Rest In Peace is a nice counterpoint to the previous track, questioning the hippie ideals of peace and love. Politicalamity decries wars and the bureaucracies that fuel them. Color Me Blind focuses on racism. Cupid's Dead questions the veracity of the news. Peacemaker Die is about the way those who promote peace are cut down. These songs all rock out.

Mine

7. Seven Sundays
8. Tragic Comic
9. Our Father
10. Stop The World
11. God Isn't Dead

The Mine section is more intimate in both lyrical and musical tone, focusing as it does on life from a me-in-terms-of-the-world kind of perspective. Seven Sundays is about wishing to spend more time with God. Tragic Comic laments how much of a fuck-up the writer is with the ladies. Our Father wonders at the fractured nature of families these days. Stop The World tries not to be overwhelmed by the mechanics of life. God Isn't Dead wonders where is this God character, anyway? This section tends to be mellower, although like the previous section, it has its moments of rock. But there is a preponderance of keyboards and strings, along with the traditional fare of guitars, bass and drums.

The Truth

Everything Under The Sun
12. Rise n' Shine
13. Am I Ever Gonna Change
14. Who Cares?

These final three tracks which comprise the Truth section actually segue into each other in an Abbey Road -like medley entitled Everything Under The Sun, which culminates in a reprise of the themes at the end, predictably bombastically (in a good way). The Truth is like the soul of the album - you can tell it represents the writers' peak in terms of expression. It's kind of like the reason for the whole album, the jewel in its crown. It is weighed down with gravity and regal splendour and ohmygod I hope I'm not turning anyone off, it's really quite amazingly fantastic, honest! It's full of ripping emotion, yawning chasms of desperation, and is the end product of a band who are so heavily influenced by The Beatles, Queen and Van Halen. Everything Under The Sun is man to God, saying, "The world, it's beautiful. It's so full of mystery and majesty and art and beauty. But I'm a fuck-up. I don't belong here. I'll never make the grade. Everything I want to do, I can't seem to do. All the bad things that I try to avoid, I end up becoming an expert in. And all around me, I see the world crumbling, people turning away from you. Do you even care?"


Track-by-track

...in which I try to describe a little bit about each song. As you may have noticed from my ramblings (above), my felings about III Sides tend to be subjective and from the heart, so I don’t find it that easy to analyse the album from an objective point-of-view. However, I can see the value of a track-by-track analysis of some sort, for those for whom the album is alien, so here it is. I’ll just pick out whatever stands out to me about each track. Of course, there’s so much more, but you really just have to hear it.

Warheads
(5:18)

Ramboy, it's us and them,
Just like your daddy in Vietnam!

Warheads is a lead-off track par excellence. Beginning with a boot camp commander barking out orders to a child, the song is introduced under the cover of air-raid sirens. The main riff enters, and it’s four-on-the-floor, balls-to-the-wall rock straight through. This song illustrates Nuno's knack for playing rhythm and lead guitar simultaneously, playing variations on his riffs so that every line is interesting.

Would you like to be a warhead, just like me?

Rest In Peace
(6:01)

Someone said, "Give peace a chance,"
And that's all that we're saying while we're sitting on the fence.

The first single from the album. Rest In Peace begins with four bars of a string quartet vamping on the chorus melody, before the guitar crash-lands in its midst, hammering the riff straight to the back of your skull. Perfectly, the song which for five minutes incessently drives itself home, gradually ends by crossfading to an acoustic guitar picking out the chords amongst tweeting birds, frolicking children and lightly-sung harmonies.

"Make love, not war" sounds so absurd to me.

Politicalamity
(5:04)

Ask not what your country can do
To a one-world governmental zoo!

Politicalamity segues from the schoolyard ambience of the previous track. A gentle wah guitar scats for a few seconds, before launching into a Voodoo Chile -esque riff that sets the song up.

Wars, and rumours of wars – no one knows what for.

Color Me Blind
(5:00)

I had a dream: I was looking over the mountain.
But I've yet to see the so-called Promised Land.

Color Me Blind plays a neat trick during the verses, echoing Gary’s vocals by a beat, so that what he has just sung harmonises with what he is singing now. It sounds truly fantastic!

Why do we dream in black and white?

Cupid's Dead
(5:55)

Three sides to every story:
Yours, mine and Monday morning's.

Cupid’s Dead is the centrepoint of this first brace of tracks, for me. It forms a fine forum for Nuno, Pat and Paul to each display their instrumental prowess. Paul’s drums are so tight, but not in a Charlie Watts way – more in a Ringo Starr way. I’m thinking the drums at the beginning of A Day in the Life, or on Abbey Road, warm and firm. But not so hazy as the drums on Pink Floyd’s The Wall (which are also warm and firm, but differently). As for Pat and Nuno, well, the final few minutes of the track feature what might dismissively be referred to as a guitar workout. It’s kind of like a guitar solo, but where every line is a riff. Kind of hard to explain. But it goes on and on, building up, and it’s fast and furious, and the thing is, Pat matches Nuno note for note on the bass, an octave or two lower. It’s just fucking amazing! He plays so fast, so perfectly, so in time with the guitar.

I read the news today... Oh boy!

Peacemaker Die
(6:03)

Blessed are the warmongers:
They shall be called man-made gods.

The stand-out feature of this song is the speech by Martin Luther King Jr ("I have a dream this afternoon..."), which follows the guitar solo. It fits so well within the song that you’d be forgiven for wondering whether King wrote his speech with it in mind to sync it to this track. Of course, that simply means, in real terms, that the band constructed music to perfectly accompany the speech, particularly in terms of the subject matter of the song.

Think the world can be black, white and Jew?

Seven Sundays
(4:17)

If I had one wish, it wouldn't be hard to choose:
Seven Sundays in a row.

This track is notable for the complete lack of guitars, which is odd for Extreme in terms of the fact that they have a guitar god in their ranks, but not so odd when you consider the fact that Extreme are known to be rather eclectic – something this album confirms again and again.

Cos that’s the day that I spend with you.

Tragic Comic
(4:44)

I'm a hapless romantic -
Stut-tut-ter-tering p-poet.

The third single from the album. This song begins with Pat knocking out a cheeky variation on the Lady Madonna riff, which fits surprisingly well underneath the main riff of the song, which doesna sound at all like LM. Tragic Comic is entirely acoustic guitar driven, a really loose, groovy riff.

Nobody can know the trouble I get into...

Our Father
(4:02)

And whose footsteps will I follow into?
Daddy, please, don't run away!

Unusually for the songs in this section, this one features stonking electric guitar, including some sort of weird synth slide guitar that enters towards the end of the second verse, and rips your guts out if you listen on headphones, it reaches so deep.

Our father, far farther away.

Stop The World
(5:57)

All the world's a masquerade made up of fools and philosophers;
Were it to rain on our charade, all washes away except our true colors.

The second single off the album. Stop the World is as radio-friendly as Extreme get on this album. Which isna saying much, really, as they’re hardly a singles band. But this is a beautiful song, with a bass solo that – gasp! – doesn’t suck.

Stop the world – I wanna get off.

God Isn't Dead
(2:02)

Ah, look at all the lonely people,
Losing faith in a world full of despair.

This is a sombre, piano-dominated song featuring a lament about God’s seeming inactivity in the world. A questioning lyric.

Please tell me God didn’t die.

Rise n' Shine
(6:22)

You analyze the earth and the sky;
I ask you why you can't analyze the signs of the present times?

Rise n’ Shine features a beautifully arpeggiated acoustic guitar riff that is supported by a sympathetically-scored orchestra. Yes, that's right, Extreme skirt close to committing musical hubris by employing a full-sized orchestra to help them realise their vision for the final three songs (collectively titled Everything under The Sun). But thankfully, the orchestra works in these songs in the same way that the strings work in Eleanor Rigby and Within You Without You.

There's a time for everything under the sun.

Am I Ever Gonna Change
(6:56)

So why do I even try? Will it matter when I die?
Does anyone hear my cry?

If Everything Under The Sun is the soul of the album, then Am I Ever Gonna Change is the soul of Everything Under The Sun. This song is simply mind-bending. Mind-bending. Mind-bending. Just mind-bending. I fight to find words to properly convey the way this song sounds. The guitar solo itself is a thing of wonder. It begins with a keening melody, followed by typewriter-like, helicopter-ish, hypnotic lines, over which a Portuguese priest can be heard sermoning, after which the guitar – well, picture every air-guitar player you’ve ever seen in the throes of ecstacy, multiply it by a thousand, and you’re starting to come close to what Nuno achieves here.

I’m tired of being me, and I don’t like what I see.

Who Cares?
(8:19)

Tell me, Jesus, are you angry?
One more sheep has just gone astray.

Who Cares? rounds off this medley, reprising as it does melodic figures from the previous two songs. But before it gets there, it goes to the moon and back. It’s here in this song that the orchestra rolls up its sleeves and elbows its way to the forefront. The result is magical, stately and operatic.

Here I am - a naked man.

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