Mr Big are back with their ninth studio release, Defying Gravity. Original members Eric Martin (lead vocals), Paul Gilbert (guitars), Billy Sheehan (bass) and Pat Torpey (drums), reunited with producer Kevin Elson. He was behind the boards for the band’s 1989 self-titled debut 1991’s Lean Into It and 1993’s Bump Ahead for an intensive six-day recording session in Los Angeles.
It is a feat in itself that a band which formed back in 1988, almost 30 years ago now, still has its founding members as tightly knitted as they were back in the day. Many bands have words about them tossed around, like super group, but where Mr Big are concerned there is no doubting that title. Just look at the key players involved here: Paul Gilbert, widely regarded as one of the top 10 best rock guitarists of his generation, from his early days with Racer X Gilbert, laid down a foundation as a trail blazer of the six string that just left guitar players worldwide gobsmacked by his technical ability.
Billy Sheehan is a master of the bass guitar and as crazy as Gilbert in his technical prowess, coming from yet another deservedly titled super group in David Lee Roth’s band, alongside six string maestro Steve Vai. Well, what can you say? Mr Big allowed Sheehan a further platform to express his incredible talents. Combined with Eric Martin’s instantly recognisable vocals and Pat Torpey’s unwavering ability on drums, you cannot deny Mr Big their super group mantle.
From the off Mr Big was something very special indeed. The opening bars of their self-titled debut album announced their arrival like a smack to the head, and they never really looked back since. Combining their virtuoso musical abilities intertwined with contagious and melodic AOR numbers, they were always going to win over the hearts and minds of music lovers everywhere. ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ fused a finger-tapping intro with a pop rock chorus that brought them commercial success; along with the worldwide hit ‘To Be With You’ reaching No. 1 in 15 countries.
Fast forward to 2017, and Mr Big return with their latest offering Defying Gravity. So how does this compare to the Mr Big of old? Good news is it is right up there with the best they have ever produced. They seem to have removed the shackles most likely self-imposed by concentrating on commercial success, replaced by a loose and colourful approach, and what you get here is 100% unadulterated musical porn. Gilbert is back to his best 21 year old self, blazing his way around that fret board like a man possessed, Sheehan matching him run for run enjoying the ride as they rip their way across 11 beautifully penned tracks.
There is something here for everyone. Blistering technical ability is on show from the opening number, ‘Open Your Eyes,’ to the last, ‘Be Kind.’ It is hard to pick out the highlights in between, as there are so many across this perfectly poised album. But one should try. Bluesy riffs in the album opener mixed with searing scales and a scorching high speed solo will have you gasping for more. The gorgeous retro sounding melody of track two ‘Defying Gravity’ fused with Martin’s vocals make for a sumptuous and addictive little number.
A thumping bass line and dirty sounding guitar announces ‘Everybody Needs a Little Trouble,’ while ‘Damn I’m in Love Again’ is an acoustic upbeat number which will no doubt get a lot of airplay for the guys. ‘Mean to Me,’ however, is the total opposite of the scale, technically brilliant. Gilbert’s unique ability to turn what should be a run of the mill melody into a cover band’s nightmare, well you’ll need to hear it to fully understand, sheer genius! A stunning performance by both Paul and Billy on this track, it is a mesmerising display by both, all encompassed in a magically melodic number. It is pure unadulterated Mr Big at their finest.
‘Nothin Bad (Bout Feelin’ Good)’ takes us back to the melodic AOR music we know from the guys, as does ‘Forever and Back,’ but with a naughty little solo to remind you that it’s a Mr Big album after all! ‘She’s All Coming Back to Me Now’ has an almost Weezer vibe to its opening riff, keeping you on your toes, whilst ‘1992’ is again the polar opposite. It takes us back to Gilbert’s Racer X / Solo days with a blistering intro. It’s a stunning track, which speaks of their glory days at the height of Mr Big’s success, which rightly should be repeated with this fine album.
‘Nothing at All,’ the album’s penultimate track, has a funky vibe under its dark Rock skin, with Gilbert again showcasing his unique and varied talents across this stunning album. The album closes on a high with ‘Be Kind,’ a soulful and bluesy number, which just lures you into a false sense of security that the chaos was all behind you in the previous 10 tracks. As usual there is always space for a little more crazy here. I’ll say no more, but needless to say the world would be a duller place without a little bit of cray cray once in a while.
The guys have delivered here in abundance, a glorious album from start to finish. It is Mr Big back at their best, and like a fine wine the guys just get better year on year.
Defying Gravity is released 07-07-17 via Frontiers Music.
- Open Your Eyes
- Defying Gravity
- Everybody Needs A Little Trouble
- Damn Im In Love Again
- Mean To Me
- Nothing Bad Bout ( Feeling Good )
- Forever And Back
- She’s All Coming Back To Me Now
- Nothing At All
- Be Kind