Mr. Big “Defying Gravity” by Adam McCann
Frontiers Records 2017
Nostalgia Trip for Mr. Big
There was a brief time in 1992 when Mr. Big ruled the airwaves and even grunge at its pinnacle could not touch the Los Angeles hard rockers. In 1991, Mr. Big released their colossal album ‘Lean Into It’ featuring huge singles in the shape of; ‘Green-Tinted Sixites Mind’ and ‘Just Take My Heart’, but it was the release of ‘To Be With You’ which gave the band that #1 hit and solidified their place in history. From here, Mr. Big struggled to reach the dizzying heights of 1992 again, the band calling it a day in 2002 before reforming in 2009 releasing a trio of albums, the latest of which ‘Defying Gravity’ was released on the 7th July.
The first thing to notice about ‘Defying Gravity’ is that it begins with ‘Open Your Eyes’, a song which comes full circle with the beginning phrase: “Ok, we’re rolling’. This alludes to the start of ‘Addicted to That Rush’ from the self-titled Mr. Big album in 1989, before ‘Open Your Eyes’ begins with that typical Paul Gilbert and Billy Sheehan guitar/bass duel which you have come to expect from Mr. Big. ‘Open Your Eyes’ is a strong opening song and it followed by the title track, during this, you remember that both Gilbert and Sheehan are so talented that their playing does not require the addition of keyboards to fill out the sound and their vocal harmonies when coupled with the strong bluesy voice of Eric Martin make the title track easily the best on the album and it is no wonder that ‘Defying Gravity’ was chosen as one of the video singles.
When listening to this album, it is important to note that ‘Defying Gravity’ was recorded within 6 days and this does become apparent quite quickly, many of songs feel as if they have been born from jams, tightened and given the attitude of, ok, that’s enough. Fortunately for Mr. Big, they have the ability and musicianship to pull this off with ease and although ‘Everybody Needs a Little Trouble’ has that groove which is more than fun to listen to, but you can’t help thinking that these songs are little more than Mr. Big on autopilot. This overarching feeling reaches throughout the album with the likes of ‘Mean to Me’, ‘Nothing At All’ and the albums closing track ‘Be Kind’, a song which has a great slide guitar riff, the only downside being that it mirrors ‘A Little Too Loose’ from ‘Lean Into It’. However, ‘Be Kind’ even devolves into a straight up instrumental jam at the end of the song, leaving that lingering feeling that ‘Defying Gravity’ is a little bit of a rushed job.
A pivot point can be reached on the album where it can become a little too much and can have you reaching for the off button and that is during ‘Damn I’m In Love Again’. This is a song that yes, is very well written and has all the pop sensibilities that the song aims for, however, ‘Damn I’m In Love Again’ is just out of place on this album and it is at best a cringe worthy pop song with country vibes. Although, it isn’t all jams and pop melodies, ‘Defying Gravity’ even throws in a huge chunk of nostalgia on the song ‘1992’. ‘1992’ tells the story of how Mr. Big once ruled the world, only to be cast aside by the record company and although the song contains some absolutely fantastic musicianship, the lyrics border on extremely clichéd about how they rose to fame, had it all, lost it all, but it was the fans which kept them going. However, on the other side of this, ‘1992’ is a great little thank you to those Mr. Big fans that have been there with the band over the past 25 years, through the good and bad times.
What you get with ‘Defying Gravity’ is another Mr. Big album, it features some excellent musicianship as always from Paul Gilbert and Billy Sheehan, alongside the strong versatile voice of Eric Martin and Matt Starr does a great job of stepping into the shoes of Pat Torpey, who has unfortunately had to take a step back from his involvement in Mr. Big due to being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. ‘Defying Gravity’ is quite a large step away from the successes of ‘Mr. Big’ and ‘Lean Into It’, but if you enjoyed ‘What If…’ and ‘…The Stories We Could Tell’ then no doubt, you will fully enjoy ‘Defying Gravity’. 70/100
Adam McCann / MHF Magazine