Mr. Big have returned with their eight studio album, ‘The Stories We Could Tell.’ The original lineup is all here for their second album since reuniting in 2009, drummer Pat Torpey, vocalist Eric Martin, guitarist Paul Gilbert and bassist Billy Sheehan. Their last album ‘What If’ was released in 2011 and received high praise from critics and fans alike. Pat Regan returns as Producer for the first time since 1999’s ‘Get Over It’ which featured Richie Kotzen on guitar.
I was curious, would I be getting a rocking Mr. Big album with a few tasteful ballads or a sappy Bon Jovi-lite Mr. Big album over-run by wimpy ballads. I’ve always been a fan of the band but their mid-90’s output just felt like they were chasing the success of ‘To Be With You.’ The two albums they did with Richie Kotzen, 1999’s ‘Get Over It’ & 2001’s ‘Actual Size’ helped restore my faith in the band as did their reunion album with Paul Gilbert, 2011’s ‘What If’. Would this album carry on from the last three albums or would Mr. Big re-vert back to a ballad-heavy approach? We shall soon see…..
‘Gotta Love The Ride’ starts the album off strong. A galloping rocker that tones down a little in the choruses. Paul’s fans will digg his blazing solo. Yet another rocker with a addictive groove, ‘I Forget To Breathe’ really showcases the masterful rhythm section of Pat & Billy. A short acoustic intro kicks off ‘Fragile’ before the band kicks in. A mid-tempo song with a good groove. A classic Mr. Big tune that could have been on their second or third album. Paul’s solos are some of my favorites on this album. Put the kids to bed for ‘Satisfied’ as it reeks of sexual tension and an abundance of sexual innuendos. Pat’s thunderous drumming really drives this rocker! The bands trademark harmony gang vocals are all here. A fantastic bluesy classic rock solo from Paul. I like Paul’s approach to the guitars on this album, less noodling & wanking and a lot more feel!!!
Don’t get me wrong, a good ballad never hurt anyone but after the success of ‘To Be With You’, it was the bands over abundance of ballads that turned me off on the band until Richie Kotzen joined in 1999. Had he not joined, I doubt I would have ever bought another Mr. Big album. The band, with Paul Gilbert or Richie Kotzen, is too damn good to have to rely on stocking their albums with ballads. A few is fine, like with ‘What If’ and this album but it got to be silly after the big hit! Five songs in and we have our first acoustic driven ballad in ‘The Man Who Has Everything’. This ballad has a bite to it though, it isn’t wimpy. The orchestra and rhythm section really beef it up. Credit where credit is due, Eric really shines vocally on ballads. Yowzah! Mr. Big is back with a vengence on
‘The Monster In Me’, Eric delivers a syncopated chorus that reeks of attitude. The groove of this song is the perfect showcase of Billy and Pat’s rhythmic chops while Paul goes off with some blistering soloing in several spots. ‘What If We Were New?’ kicks off with a 70’s classic rock riff and never lets up on the vibe.
‘East/West’ had me fooled with the acoustic intro. Shame on you guys, I was expecting another ballad and while more in the mid-tempo rocker/ballad vein there is a certain degree of heaviness to the song overall. The harmonies….wow! Kicking off with a punky vibe, ‘The Light Of Day’ never lets up. A bit left-of-center for Mr. Big stylistically but I really digg it. Paul’s fuzzy surf guitar solo innertwined with Billy’s bass tapping is a trip. ‘Just Let Your Heart Decide’ is the second ballad of the album but is far from wimpy. Well done! Classic Mr. Big harmony vocals and a tastefully done solo help give it a level of sultriness. The ladies should really digg it & the gents won’t be afraid to be seen dancing with their ladies when this song plays.
‘It’s Always About That Girl’ kicks the tempo back up. Digg the heavy groove of this retro-classic rocker vibe! Paul & Billy begin this track with an inner-weaving groovin’ riff that Pat’s stellar drumming accents before Eric briefly channels his inner-Steven Tyler around the :14 mark of ‘Cinderella Smile’, this song just stays in the groove. Very reminiscent of ‘Hiding Place’ from 1999’s ‘Get Over It’. Digg Paul’s tone on the solo. Paul kicks off ‘The Stories We Could Tell’ with a short yet sweet intro before the band kicks in to close out the album with a lyrically autobiographical rocker. Paul’s bluesy tone on this song is my favorite of the album. Pat & Billy really lay back in the pocket letting Paul & Eric do their thing. I really thought the band was gonna “go off” musically at the end of the song but instead they just slammed on the breaks and brought the album to a screeching end.
After the albums completion, it was announced that drummer Pat Torpey had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He announced that he’d be stepping down from full-time live drumming duties. He will still tour with Mr. Big & lend his considerable talents to the acoustic portions of their set while the ever-capable Matt Starr (ex-Ace Frehley) will handle the majority of the live drumming duties. I just wonder, will this be Mr. Big’s in-studio swan song since Pat is stepping down or will they carry on with Pat’s blessing?
I hope not, as I’ve always wanted to see Mr. Big release an album featuring both Paul Gilbert & Richie Kotzen sharing lead and rhythm guitar duties. Plus, with Richie’s vocal prowess it’d not only be a guitar geeks dream-come-true but the vocal harmonies everyone would create…..WOW!
Pat Regan captured the strengths of the band. Eric Martin is as good of a singer as you will find, he can handle the rockers with the best of them and excels in pouring his heart out on the ballads yet does not get enough credit, in my opinion for his lyrics. What a tale he can weave. Pat, Billy and Paul’s reputation on their respective instruments is well deserved but what about those amazing background vocals that harmonize perfectly with Eric? Mr. Big could let loose and release some over-the-top chopfest but they dial it back for the sake of the song as it is what is best for Mr. Big! They all have their solo careers, independent of Mr. Big that allows them to go-off or focus on what got them noticed to begin with.
In concluding, Mr. Big have just released an album heavy on a bluesy classic rock vibe and light on ballads. I think this album captures the spirit of what Billy Sheehan had in mind in 1988 when he set out to find the components that would make Mr. Big! For a band who got their name from a song by the Paul Rodgers lead group, Free, I’d say they’ve finally lived up to the original vision on ‘The Stories We Could Tell’!!!
01. Gotta Love The Ride
02. I Forget To Breathe
05. The Man Who Has Everything
06. The Monster In Me
07. What If We Were New?
09. The Light Of Day
10. Just Let Your Heart Decide
11. It’s Always About That Girl
12. Cinderella Smile
13. The Stories We Could Tell