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Mr. Big - Defying Gravity (Album Review)

Tuesday, 01 August 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

A lot can happen when the pressure is on. Just ask pop-rock veterans Mr. Big, who put together their new LP, ‘Defying Gravity’, in six days. The gauntlet was thrown down by the band’s label and the workload of returning producer Kevin Elson but, under the gun, they have emerged with a surprisingly strong effort.   

We all know how experienced the band are and it’s testament to their talent that, if you didn’t know how quickly ‘Defying Gravity’ was made, you’d have no idea from listening to its highly enjoyable contents. These songs are first rate and flush with exceptionally sharp melodies, killer instrumental touches, buoyant backing vocals and a relaxed, infectious vibrancy.

It’s a little mind-blowing to think that Be Kind and Mean To Me, in particular, were made from scratch in under a week. The former splices a vintage Beatles chorus to a gritty slide riff before unleashing a razzle dazzle coda full of instrumental pizzazz, while the latter delivers a drilling guitar motif, off-kilter hook and some classic fretboard wizardry from Billy Sheehan and Paul Gilbert.  

Aside from those tracks, the band’s virtuosic intricacies are understandably more subdued. Instead, they’ve used their limited time to predominantly hone the structure and texture of songs that, although not as tightly refined as usual, are very well crafted with an added looseness that bequeaths the material an invigorating immediacy.  

Nothing Bad (‘bout Feeling Good) offers chiming romantic verses before erupting into a chorus that sounds like the band have swiped it from the cutting room floor of a vintage US rock act. The title track, meanwhile, revolves around a sprightly Gilbert lick as it charges towards a soaring hook that’s a microcosmic expression of this records well-defined thematic backbone. All these tracks are, ironically, about emancipating ourselves from the constrictions of time, treasuring loved ones and learning from what we’ve lost.  

Fittingly, the band have also reconnected with their own history, reteaming with Elson (who helmed their first four records) and serving up infectiously self-referential anthem 1992. Gilbert and Sheehan’s sci-fi licks hurl us backwards through space and time before Eric Martin’s choked-soul rasp spins the triumphant underdog story behind their early ‘90s smash To Be With You.

Prior to 2014’s ‘…..The Stories We Could Tell’ drummer Pat Torpey was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He programmed his parts for that record electronically, but the pesky deadline made the same approach impossible here.  So touring drummer Matt Starr deputised and Torpey acted as his personal coach, thereby helping to retain the characteristic Mr Big groove. The results work well, particularly on Everybody Needs A Little Trouble where frisky marching beats drive a sneering rocker that preaches the joy of raising a lil’ hell.

The album’s production has come in for some criticism, with internet-based malcontents claiming these songs resemble lo-fi demos. Nonsense.  It may be a little muddy in places and certainly not as polished as Elson’s past efforts, but with little time for overdubs the results actually resemble a live performance and exude a bare-boned, authentic charm.

The only minor fault is a predominance of mid-tempo tunes when one out and out shit kicker like Colorado Bulldog would have rounded the record out nicely.  But maybe keeping tabs on the bigger picture is tricky when working at such a brisk pace?

Defying gravity, like making a great album in 144 hours while presumably still eating and sleeping, should be impossible for men without a billowing red cape. But on the evidence of this record, don’t be surprised to see the members of Mr Big flying heroically across a skyline near you in the near future.

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