The rock world is full of returns these days. Whether financial or creative reasons prevail when it comes to stepping back in the spotlight is never easy to find out. Recently Los Angeles rockers Mr. Big added their name to the list of come back kids. The band called it quits in 2002 and laid low for eight years. Then all of a sudden in early 2009, they surfaced in Japan for a series of reunion concerts followed by the usual best of (Next Time Around) and live (Back to Budokan) ammo. Next is the release of a brand new record called What If. The newborn marks the first studio album since 1996 (Hey Man) performed by the original line up consisting of Eric Martin on vocals, Paul Gilbert on guitars, Billy Sheehan on bass and Pat Torpey on drums.
Although it's unclear to me what the flying pig on the album cover is all about, the music has a much clearer message: we are back and we can still pull it off. This is embodied by 12 intelligent and well performed classic rock tracks that seamlessly continue where Hey Man left of. In fact, Mr. Big's DNA, the shredding guitars, concrete basslines and bluesy touch, is so obvious, you don't need a CSI training course to find proof of what's coming out of the speakers.
With the almost perfect balance between 4 up tempo rockers, 6 mid tempo tracks, 2 ballads, and the state of art playing order may not make this record earthshaking, but it sure is pleasant to listen to. What also helps is that the band, contrary to what other second time around acts sometimes produce, sounds vital and inspired after all these years. However, that may be from the fresh production done by Kevin Shirley or, possibly, that the tracks were recorded and mixed in only 4 weeks time.
Highlights include the groovy opener Undertow, the power ballad Stranger In My Life (reminding of their monster hit To Be With You), the shreddy As Far As I Can See, and the atmospheric mid tempo rockers I Won't Get In My Way and I Get The Feeling.
In the end, the question remains as to what extent What If is a quick cash affair or a creative monster that was caged for 14 years. Well, keeping the bands previous efforts in mind this album is easily on par with the remainder of the impressive Mr. Big catalogue. In this case creative forces were strong enough to erase doubts on possible financial motives. But who knows, what sounds well, sells well.
In the end, the question remains as to what extent What If is a quick cash affair or a creative monster that was caged for 14 years. Well, keeping the bands previous efforts in mind this album is easily on par with the remainder of the impressive Mr. Big catalogue.