Mr. Big - 'What If...' (Frontiers Records) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Gaz E   
Wednesday, 19 January 2011 05:00

mrbig'What If' is the name of a series of Marvel comic books exploring "the road not travelled", an alternate existence outside of the commercial success afforded its subjects, and it could easily have lent its name, in 1988, to the formation of Mr. Big. What if a "lead bassist", a shredding guitarist, a soulful vocalist and Belinda Carlisle's former drummer got together to form an ass-kicking rock band?


That question didn't go unanswered for very long with Mr. Big's second album - 1991's 'Lean Into It' - garnering massive commercial success worldwide. With the kind of rock that the band peddled becoming as fashionable as the Hitler moustache later in the Nineties, guitarist Paul Gilbert left (reforming his original widdlers Racer X) to be replaced by former Poison philanderer Richie Kotzen and, although their popularity may have waned in the US, the band continued to enjoy massive success in Japan where they were bigger than Mothra. In fact, the band's press conference announcing the reunion of the original line-up (after the last incarnation of the band split in 2002) took place in Japan, as did the first live dates for the reunited foursome.


With the Caveman, South African producing legend Kevin Shirley at the helm, the band headed into the studio in Los Angeles in September of last year to begin recording 'What If...', which saw release in Japan (of course) in December before its impending worldwide release. The band's seventh full length studio album was preceded in November by the release of its opening track, 'Undertow', as a single and an inspired return for the band it turned out to be.


A real throwback to Mr. Big's golden years, 'Undertow' really sets the tone for this long-awaited new album. Second track 'American Beauty' has the ghost of Billy Sheehan's former employer David Lee Roth (or at least the ghost of his hair) creeping all over it and should have old fans air guitar-and bass-ing within seconds of its arrival. Then something threatens to stick in the spokes; the slow and brooding 'Stranger In My Life' suddenly steals the impetus away from the record, stripping that tone back. A good song, great some will say, but its place in the running order is curious. Later in the album would have been a more welcoming home for this tune.


'Nobody Left To Blame' quickly attempts to right this wrong with the first real example of Eric Martin's vocals totally owning a song before 'Still Ain't Enough For Me' shifts the pace up another gear by showing that the band aren't afraid to look back to move forward; this and a few other songs, 'I Won't Get In My Way' for example, have a real classic rock feel to them that reminds me of the path that Europe have chosen to follow with modern albums such as 2009's 'Last Look At Eden'. 'As Far As I Can See' only confirms this opinion. 'All The Way Up' is the song most likely to swell the bosom of all female fans who have taken a chance on this new album given the band's writing of the song that accompanied the first dance at their wedding. Again, a real throwback of a tune yet avoiding the opportunity to sound particularly dated.


The song that will knock people dead when listening to the record comes in the shape of 'Around The World' which manages to seamlessly fuse the technical aspect of the guitar and bass playing of Messrs Gilbert and Sheehan with a big fat hook that, although from another decade, will stick around the heads of people in the here and now for some time. A signature big chorus and duelling guitar and bass, this song pretty much sums up Mr. Big. 'I Get The Feeling' rounds out the album proper before 'Unforgiven', an exclusive bonus track for Europe and North America (Japan got a different extra track), throws a more classic rock sound out of the speakers in a heavy, groove-laden fashion.


I cannot believe that anyone who ever entertained the idea of being a fan of Mr. Big will not love this album. Mums and owners of 'Dad Rocks', if they accidentally discover that this record has been released, may well baulk at the lack of tearjerkers but anyone with a clue will surely lay claim to this being the finest album from the band since their Nineties prime. Utilising their unique ability to craft songs that showcase both the technical wizardry of the plank spankers and the sweet vocal chords of their fantastic singer, Mr. Big appear to be following their own set of guidelines but, perhaps now, for their own purposes, producing an album that fans couldn't possibly have hoped for better than.