Mr. Big – What If… (2011, Frontiers Records)
- American Beauty
- Stranger In My Life
- Nobody Left To 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
- Unforgiven (bonus track)
DVD Extra – Undertow videoclip, All The Way Up videoclip, Making of WHAT IF…
Eric Martin – Lead Vocals
Billy Sheehan – Bass & Vocals
Paul Gilbert – Guitars & Vocals
Pat Torpey – Drums & Vocals
Producer: Kevin Shirley
Total Time = 50:54
Has it really been 10 years since Mr. Big released their last studio album? And has it been 15 years since the original lineup released a new album? The answer to both questions is “Yes” so the next logical question is: Why is Mr. Big reuniting again? If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 22 years then you should know that Mr. Big is one of the biggest bands to come out of the late ’80s/early ’90s. The band had instant success with their self-titled debut album in 1989 and then released their follow-up, LEAN INTO IT (1991), that included the smash hit ballad ‘To Be With You’. Once the musical climate changed in the U.S. in the early ’90s, Mr. Big went on to international fame and fortune, especially in Japan. Mr. Big are gods in Japan and that is the reason for the current reunion of Eric Martin, Billy Sheehan, Pat Torpey and original guitarist Paul Gilbert…..the Japanese fans and promoters demand for Mr. Big is insatiable! The band reunited in 2009 for live dates and then hit the studio to create WHAT IF…
The album starts out with the hard rocking first single, ‘Undertow’, that immeadiately reminds the listener that the band is more than a bunch of balladeers, this band knows how to rock! The band sounds completely comfortable, all performances flawless, and the song is classic Mr. Big but with an updated edge. Eric Martin sounds in fine voice and the return of Paul Gilbert is solidified with his guitar solo…..I’d mention how great Sheehan and Torpey are but it’s a forgone conclusion that they are a solid rhythm team. The band hits hard again with ‘American Beauty’, a modern day version of ‘Addicted To That Rush’. This is how to rock! The band puts the foot to floor and heads back to the ’80s highway of fast melodic Hard Rock circa their debut album. The guitar and bass play right off each other and Gilbert turns in another brilliant solo while that funky bassline of Sheehan dances around it. So many fans hear the name Mr. Big and think of the ballads but if you listen to all their albums, especially the first two, these guys can rock with the best of them! That doesn’t mean the guys aren’t going to slow down and they do with ‘Stranger In My Life’, a ballad that showcases Eric Martin’s vocals…..this guy is just consistent, nailing down the vocals everytime on every album. All Mr. Big ballads will be compared to ‘To be With You’ but I’d say that ‘Stranger In My Life’ has more emotion and is more heartfelt, one of the best songs on the album. ‘Nobody Left To Blame’ keeps things on the slow side, more of a mid-tempo, but very heavy. There’s an edge here, a darker emotional feel, that really personalizes the song, Eric’s vocals sound very emotional like a sense of loss. The musicianship is top notch here, as is the case with every Mr. Big song, Sheehan and Torpey giving the song a groove that fits in well with Gilbert’s guitar heroics.
Time to kick it up a notch again with ‘Still Ain’t Enough For Me’, another fast-paced hard rocker that showcases the duelling Gilbert and Sheehan (especially at the solo break). This is another song that could easily be the modern day ‘Addicted To That Rush’ and that’s how I like Mr. Big to be: fast, heavy and straight forward. ‘Once Upon A Time’ continues the faster pace and is very heavy, Paul Gilbert really gets a thick sound on this track. I like the heavy modern edge to the song while maintaining the clean lines each musician follows…..on every song you can hear each player’s insturment clear as day. Obviously the band are excellent musicians but producer Kevin Shirley (producer for Journey, Iron Maiden, Queesryche and more) does another phenomenal job and makes the album sound flawless. I’ve read online that Shirley had the band play the songs live in the studio to capture the true feel of the band…..well, it worked because the band sounds better than they ever have. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since these four guys recorded together but it’s a testament to each member’s talent. The heaviness continues with ‘As Far As I Can See’ but you can hear the early Mr. Big in the melodic parts especially around the chorus…..I’m still wondering if Eric Martin has aged since 1989 because his vocals sound so good that he puts younger peers to shame. Ballad #2 arrives with the acoustic based ‘All The Way Up’, a cool change of pace from the heavier direction the album has taken so far. ‘All The Way Up’ is another perfect example of why Mr. Big gets lumped in with the “big hair” bands and the sweet love ballads, the band is just really good at making ballads! This song is heartfelt and very melodic with another vocal clinic from Eric Martin.
‘I Won’t Get In My Way’ continues the modern edgy Hard Rock and is another solid Rock song but there’s not much of the individual musical definition except come the solo break where Gilbert and Sheehan play off each other. The lack of musical individuality ends with the blazing melodic ‘Around The World’, as song that Billy Sheehan owns with his bass pyrotechnics! If you’re listening to WHAT IF… and you’re waiting for Billy to cut loose, this is the song! It’s not all bass though because the song is very melodic and the chorus is extremely catchy while Gilbert plays off Sheehan. The classic Mr. Big sound of the MTV era is alive and well on ‘I Get The Feeling’, a track that could easily have been a hit back in the day. It’s another melodic rocker with great guitar but I swear Eric Martin sounds a little like Tesla’s Jeff Keith on a couple of lines. The bonus track for the European/North American release is ‘Unforgiven’, another modern hard rocking song that’s very heavy and has that darker edge to it. If you’re like me, you needed to buy the limited edition version of WHAT IF… so there’s a bonus DVD included that has videos for both ‘Undertow’ and ‘All The Way Up’ and footage of the band making the album.
So what does Mr. Big have to offer in 2011? Obviously a lot because WHAT IF… is one of the best Melodic Rock records of the year! Seriously, I am already installing this album as 2011’s best and it’s going to be hard for someone to come along and beat it. There isn’t a weak song on the album, all are well written and well played. The production is flawless and Eric Martin proves that he is one of the best singers in Rock. Even the album artwork is great…..no one, including the band, ever thought they would reunite. Maybe “when pigs fly”? A perfect statement that shows the humor and fun Mr. Big is about. I was looking forward to getting this album and I am definitely happy with the results. Fans of Mr. Big will love this album as will fans of Melodic Hard Rock. Best album of 2011 so far!
This is going to be tough because there isn’t a weak song on the album, each one is really great. If I had to pick four songs: ‘Undertow’, ‘American Beauty’, ‘All the Way Up’, ‘Still Ain’t Enough For Me’