MR BIG – Defying Gravity

In a day and age when the world is overpopulated by old reunited  80’s / 90’s hard rock bands, yes even bands from the grunge and nu-metal era are picking up where they left off, it’s certainly refreshing that so many of them have decided to not only trust their past glories and do the nostalgia act but also to release new music. The fact that moving forward and developing are so important to bands that they don’t care that they hardly sell any records anymore is actually pretty spectacular when you think of the fact that many of them used to sell millions back when. It’s also very refreshing that a lot of the bands are easily as good – and in some cases even better – as they were when they were fab. Stryper, Winger, Europe, Alice In Chains, Night Ranger, Soundgarden and Treat are some fine examples of bands in that category. And of course, Mr Big. Their self titled debut album from 1988 is a melodic hard rock classic today but after that one, Mr Big sure had their up and downs when it comes to the quality of the records. Albums like Bump Ahead (1993) and Hey Man (1996) didn’t set the world on fire sales wise but are underrated and contains shitloads of great songs while their second album Lean Into It (1991), that contained their biggest hit ever (“To Be With You”) was uneven. The albums Get Over It (1991) and Actual Size (2001) where Richie Kotzen had replaced Paul Gilbert were underwhelming and it was clear that Mr Big had overstayed their welcome by a few years.

That said, their reunion in 2009 was something I had had my fingers crossed for for a few years. At first, it looked like Mr Big would only make a reunion tour but luckily for all involved, Gilbert, singer Eric Martin, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Pat Torpey decided that new music was a must and in 2010 we got to hold What If… in our hands. Produced by Kevin Shirley, it showed a band that had kept true to their style and had written a whole bunch of really great songs. Apparently it did so well that the band decided to keep the band alive for real. In 2014 we got the Pat Regan produced The Stories We Could Tell, an album much in the same vein as its predecessor. But things would change in the Mr Big camp. Drummer Torpey was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and while he’s still a member of the band, his drumming was, of course, affected and on their new album Matt Starr (Ace Frehley, All 4 1) takes care of the drum sticks. Torpey will be touring with the band, playing at least one song per gig. For the new album, the band also went back to producer Kevin Elson, who produced their first four albums. If that would make any change to the band’s sound was anyone’s guess.

Opener “Open Your Eyes” sounds very much like classic Mr Big, actually it’s much a nod back to the debut. It’s quite stripped with a big groove, some funkiness and a Led Zep vibe. The chorus really does its job by nailing itself to my brain without being radio-friendly or hitty at all. A great song and a perfect opener. The title track and second single is next and it’s a straight forward melodic hard rocker with a punky touch and a vocals melody that’s AOR-ish and ridiculously catchy. The back-up vocals here are world-class and song is a true killer – so brilliant. First single, the kicking rock stomper “Everybody Needs A Little Trouble” follows with a huge groove and an in-your-face chorus that makes it stick without being aimed for radio at all. It’s raw and swinging and not obvious single-material, but it is an awesome track. “Damn I’m In Love Again” is a feel-good, uptempo, straight-up pop song, based on acoustic guitars. This is summer music, cozy and cheerful – this makes me smile. It’s not spectacular by any means but it sure is good enough.

“Mean To Me” is somewhat progressive with a classic Mr Big vibe and rocks with a killer groove and a melody that sticks. The tune really hits where it should and the big kick-ass vibe will make this perfect for the stage. “Nothin Bad (Bout Feeling Good)” is a happy-go-lucky uptempo ballad about the joys of happiness and love, musically based on the acoustic guitar. The chorus is catchy as can be and there are some amazing vocal harmonies which brings a cozy and laid-back vibe. Still, the melodies aren’t all that power ballad subservient that many ballads are, very beneficent for the track, I must say. But a Mr Big album wouldn’t feel right without that big power ballad and “Forever And back” is that power ballad. Where the verses are pretty laid back and bluesy, the refrain kicks in and brings the melody into the goal. It comes with a major hit feel and some catchiness deluxe. A future single, if I’m allowed to guess. Brilliant!

“She’s All Coming Back To Me Now” is a pop song on a hard rock foundation. The whole thing is über-melodic and the chorus goes all the way to Beatles town with its delightful arrangement. The tune is in mid-pace but it still brings on one helluva groove. Great stuff! Mr Big goes down nostalgia lane with “1992”, a song about the band’s past and the fact that they were on top of the charts with “To Be With You” – and the fact that they faded almost just as fast, very honest and humble. The tune has the Mr Big recognizable twin bass/guitar doodling from Sheehan and Gilbert that they’re known for. The verses are pretty stripped and even dark sounding which is in good contrast to the über-catchy chorus that sticks hard by first listen – classic Mr Big and a brilliant tune. “Nothing At All” is slower and bluesier, big on early 70’s hard rock influences, rhythmic and raw. But it’s also very melodic and memorable with a classic Mr Big melody. Closing track “Be Kind” is a slow, somewhat blues oriented pop song with its feet both in the 50’s and 60’s. It’s quite soothing and smooth with some amazing backing vocals and harmonies that makes you feel good right into the bone. Just to spice the ending up, they kick up a jam in the last 1,5 minutes – very unexpected and very unpredictable! Killer!

How about Kevin Elson then? Well, this sure as Hell isn’t one of his ultra-thin plastic and sterile productions of the 80’s. That said, he’s also responsible for some really good ones back then so his work isn’t that easy to pin-point as good or bad. He always did a good job with Mr Big though and this album is no exception. To be honest, sound wise, the production on Mr Big’s three latest albums don’t differ that much – Kevin Shirley, Pat Regan or Kevin Elson, Mr Big sounds like Mr Big. But this album have more in common with their debut than any of their previous albums and I love how that record sounds so big thumbs up on that. As for the quality of the songs, this album is just another proof of that Mr Big are another reunited 80’s band that are better today than they were in their hey-day. So if you’re into their two previous records then you can buy this unheard because this is excellent stuff. Great musicians, great songs, great production – what more could anyone ask for?

8/10

Other Mr Big reviews:

What If…
The Stories We Could Tell

Tracklist:

1. Open Your Eyes
2. Defying Gravity
3. Everybody Needs A Little Trouble
4. Damn I’m In Love Again
5. Mean To Me
6. Nothing Bad (Bout Feeling Good)
7. Forever And Back
8. She’s All Coming Back To Me Now
9. 1992
10. Nothing At All
11. Be Kind

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