Revered American “supergroup” Mr. Big are on a roll right now. 2014’s ‘The Stories We Could Tell’ was generally regarded as one of their strongest and a return to the heady days of the stunning self titled debut album and the massive ‘Lean Into It’ album. ‘Defying Gravity’ is not the sound of a nostalgia act or a band resting on past laurels, it’s the sound of a band playing for fun and playing for each other. It’s also the sound of a band in a hurry. Recorded in just six days, it’s a lean album. Drummer Pat Torpey sadly suffers from Parkinson’s disease, and was only able to perform on a few tracks, with touring drummer Matt Starr playing on the majority of the album. With the dream team of Mr. Big and producer Kevin Elson back together, it was always going to be special. A fitting reminder of the power of music.
The standard of playing is at times staggering, but what else would you expect of bassist’s bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist extraordinaire Paul Gilbert? Both are all over opener ‘Open Your Eyes’ which features some sweet shredding from Gilbert to match his more melodic work. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe Billy Sheehan’s work, but if you ever get bored of PornHub, change to YouTube and check out his work with Talas, Dave Lee Roth, The Winery Dogs. Evergreen vocalist Eric Martin doesn’t seem to have aged at all, and sounds as cultured as ever. He makes it sound easy on the ultra-catchy title track, which features some huge hooks. He doesn’t get it all his own way though, as Gilbert steals a bit of his limelight with some staggering playing. ‘1992’ is another fine moment from Gilbert. Beginning like an instrumental track with some shredding, it soon settles into a bodacious groove and a tale of the year when Mr. Big were kings of the world with that massive hit, ‘To Be With You’. It’s also a cautionary story of the pitfalls of success in a fickle business: “Record company said to us thank you man, then they threw us right into the garbage can”. ‘1992’ is just one of many highlights on ‘Defying Gravity’. The smooth handclap groove of ‘Everybody Needs A Little Trouble’ hits the spot, as does the uptempo acoustic ‘Damn I’m In Love Again’, which is as simple and potent as rock n’ roll gets. ‘Mean To Me’ is harder, with an edgier guitar sound from Gilbert, and the almighty jam that sees out the album on ‘Be Kind’ is worthy of your money alone. What begins as a doo-wop number ends up as a free for all, as Mr. Big tear it up for the last 90 seconds. Just listen to Sheehan and Gilbert go toe to toe. What’s that sound? That’s the sound of countless guitar heroes going back to the drawing board…
‘Defying Gravity’ is out now on Frontiers Music. Mr. Big return to Europe later this year for some live dates, all the information can be found here
Review: Dave Stott