Label: Frontiers 2011
Review by Alan Holloway
I’ve had a rather patchy history with Mr Big over the years, but have always admired the talent within the band, in particular the stellar vocals of Eric Martin. Oh sure, “To Be With You” was a big load of soppy bollocks, but it’s still an awesome song, and “Green Tinted Sixties Mind” (from the same album) was a wonderfully unique track. Let’s just say that when Mr Big find the right groove there’s lots of fun to be had. The Japanese certainly agree, and it’s their fault that over the years the band have released more live albums than they have studio ones. Mr Big have come full circle now, over 20 years after they started, with the supremely talented guitarist Paul Gilbert back in the fold to make everything cosier than a pair of slippers made out of Steve Perry’s vocal chords.
Let me tell you now that “What If…” is a totally excellent album, easily as good as anything the band have done before. See, I have to get that out of the way, if only so you don’t have to skip to the end of the review. The only reason this won’t appear in my top albums for 2010 is because it isn’t officially released until January, but after living with it for a few weeks I’m pretty certain it will feature highly in next years list. What you get here is Mr Big rocking out as only they can, with Billy Sheehan throwing about all sorts of complicated but fun bass stuff, and Paul Gilbert is both restrained and ebullient when the need arises. Eric Martin still has that gloriously throaty but strangely clear voice that reeled me in so long ago when I heard him singing “Lying In A Bed Of Fire” (Youtube it if you haven’t heard it), and as Pat Torpey’s kit keeps it all together you have a feeling that this is as good as it gets.
If you’re looking for another potential weepy hit, then “All the Way Up” is the one - it’s a beautiful song sung with real conviction by Martin. Elsewhere the band just let rip with some really energetic stuff, notably on “Nobody Takes The Blame”, where Sheehan widdles like never before. The album’s full of stuff like this, all frenetic and melodic, bursting with the joys of life, love and rocking like a bastard. “American Beauty” is a full on track with a hook that will stay with you for days, whilst “Around The World” has a similar feel to “Addicted To That Rush”, seemingly in a hurry to get to it’s own end with a touch of Hagar era Van Halen about it.
If you’re wondering why you should give Mr Big another look, stop thinking about it and have a listen to “What If…”. This is exactly the album the band needed to produce, a masterpiece of musical excellence and flamboyance coupled with catchy songs that jump out of the speakers and into your brain. I’d forgotten just how good this band can be, but this album has ensured I won’t forget again.