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Zigzag Sound

Nuno Bettencourt
Steen Sundland

All Over the Map: Guitarist Nuno Bettencourt.

Ex-Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt brims with surprises

By Nicky Baxter

I could never quite figure out why critics seem to have so much difficulty with artists interested in exploring multiple facets of their musical personality. Sure, there's something to be said for stability, but that something is more suitable to economic systems and fault lines.

Nuno Bettencourt's Schizophonic (A&M) zigzags all over the musical map, brimming with more surprises than a block birthday party. Bettencourt, of course, was the guitarist for the hard-rock outfit Extreme. That band did, at times, show a willingness to stretch out (especially on 1992's III Sides to Every Story), but on Schizophonic, Bettencourt pulls out all the stops, playing everything from the Queen-sized pop of "I Wonder" to the modern-rock ministrations of "Got to Have You" to the introspective quietude of "Pursuit of Happiness."

Bettencourt's intention is to slash the umbilical cord that once tethered him to the Boston group. Not to worry.

Schizophonic is far superior to anything he's ever done, which is all the more impressive, because Bettencourt pulls off a near DIY here, playing most of the instruments, and writing and singing all the songs.

Surprising, too, is how easily Bettencourt sheds the cartoonish shred-meister image he cultivated with Extreme. On the new album, his guitar is kept in line, serving the song rather than the reverse. Still, Nuno gets in some nasty licks.

"Gravity," the initial track, is the sort of guitar rock that MTV slavers over, with multitracked guitars burning a hole in your head. Even more alterna is the riffy "Swollen Princess," with its Brit-pop chorus and sinewy groove.

But for my money, "Crave" is the number. Here we have the soft/hard sound that defined Seattle applied to perfection. Bettencourt's bump-along bass line meets a chorus that Kurt would have died for in a concluding bit that sounds as if Bettencourt had corralled a posse of harmony-singing munchkins. It isn't often guitar sovereigns abdicate life amid the masses, Nuno Bettencourt deserves big-ups for standing down.

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