CD Review: Mr. Big ~ What If…
One of the most intrinsic elements essentials to creating brilliant records with timeless accessibility is chemistry. When the four individuals that make up Mr. Big brought their immense and unquestioned talents together in 1988, the dynamic was so complete that the band created one of the all-time epic debut hard rock/metal albums. Arguably a perfect 10. And while the album was no fluke, a changing musical climate combined with the death knell to any metal career—the all eclipsing power ballad success—things began to unwind for Eric Martin, Paul Gilbert, Billy Sheehan and Pat Torpey. By the time they released 1993’s Bump Ahead the chemistry was fracturing.
Now over two decades later, the guys have reunited. The music scene is once again receptive, and their chemistry is undeniably back. How can I be so sure? Well I’ve listened to the new album, What If… a time or 20, and all 12 tracks are tight, powerful, melodic and bluesy. They are the Mr. Big in their prime.
What If… Mr. Big came together again? Would the magic return? The answer is a resounding YES! What If… doesn’t even hit the states until February 8th, but it’s already a contender for top 10 album of the year.
Vocalist Eric Martin’s voice sounds as engaging as ever, and the undeniable chops of bassist Sheehan and guitarist Gilbert, are in full force. And it’s all held together by the rock steady beat from Torpey. You can feel the vibe has returned between the four legendary musicians.
Said Gilbert of the new record; “This is the first Mr. Big album I have been a part of, since 14 years and it was done in a snap. It was fun and we had really a good time in making this one.” Sheehan concurred, saying “We wrote this record like we did in the old days for the first two records. Jamming together in the same room to write songs.”
The band tapped Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, Rush) to helm production.
The album opens with the first single, “Undertow.” From the get go you can hear the songwriting is as strong as ever. Gilbert’s guitar comes chugging out and Martin’s smoky voice pulls you right in…well, like an undertow.
“American Beauty” takes the listener right back to that 1988 debut album as does the jamfest “Still Ain’t Enough For Me.” Likewise for “Around The World.”
“I like to compare this to the first album,” says Martin, “when we just got to know each other in a rehearsal studio and cut it in 8 or 9 days. This is like a chapter,” he continued, “a beautiful brand new chapter starting for all of us.”
One of the conflicts of gathering such talented musicians together in one project is keeping the parts from overshadowing the sum of the whole, and on What If…, as on their debut album, they managed to avoid just that.
Drummer Pat Torpey felt that despite changes in the recording process from when they first started the band, he feels they found that original connection. “I think this record really managed to capture the performances of the band, not of the individual musicians.”
The band even slowed it down for something close to a power ballad, “All The Way Up.” But even that is more in line with their first album than the monster commerciality of “To Be With You.”
“I Won’t Get In My Way” is another gem that should be the album’s second single. It’s just addictive–”Viva la strange/take a bite of Eden’s apple/against the grain and away from the madness…”
Track by track this record is aural gold.
So What If… Mr. Big could return to their glory years? That’s not a big if at all. Mr. Big is back!
‘ American Beauty’
‘Stranger In My Life’
‘Nobody Takes The Blame’
‘Still Ain’t Enough For Me’
‘Once Upon A Time’
‘As Far As I Can See’
‘All The Way Up’
‘I Won’t Get In My Way’
‘Around The World’
‘I Get The Feeling’
‘Kill Me With a Kiss’ (exclusive bonus track for Japan)
‘Unforgiven’ (exclusive bonus track for Europe / North America – not on vinyl edition)