Atlantic Japan AMCY-7300
Produced by: Richie Zito

Released: OUT / Website
Closest Relative:
GENRE: Hard Rock

  1. Lost In America
  2. Wake Up
  3. Shine
  4. Arrow
  5. Mary Goes 'Round
  6. Suffocation
  7. One World Away
  8. I Don't Want To be Happy
  9. Crawl Over Me
  10. Cheap Little Thrill
  11. How Did I Give Myself Away
  12. Nothing Like It In The World
  13. Deep Dark Secret*
    * Japan Bonus Track

I love this CD. This has really made my month, after a couple of other high profile releases failed to live up to my hopes and expectations.
Mr. Big are one of my favourite ever bands, going way back to being a fan of the guys individually before they collectively became a band.
The guys underwent a line up change on their last album, bringing in guitarist Richie Kotzen, replacing the outgoing Paul Gilbert.
I was always a fan of Gilbert, but Kotzen certainly is a very talented player.
However, his style is quite different to the more riff driven Gilbert. He is a more rhythmic player, with a style heavily influenced by the blues. The resulting bluesier album Get Over It left some divisions in the fan base.
But it also impressed some new fans.
As good an album as it was, it certainly had a different feel with Richie exerting his influence over the sound, but once again, it didn't rock like the band's earlier work did.
Two years on and Actual Size finds the band really hitting their groove.
In my humble opinion, I think this album will bridge the gap between the two factions of Mr. Big fans, in turn pleasing just about everyone in the process.
Actual Size features the best production of any Mr. Big album since Lean Into It.
Back is the sharp high-tech snap the early records had, largely thanks to the awesome production of Richie Zito. The mix is also tighter than an over stretched guitar string.
The record isn't as heavy as Lean Into It or the self-titled debut, but it is easily the next in line after those and is certainly the toughest, most guitar dominated record since those albums.
The songs have also returned to the band's more melodic rock origins, with a couple of tougher bluesier numbers being the exception, not the rule.
Those couple of tracks provide a great balance to the album, which sees the band playing their special brand of commercial, high-tech melodic rock - just as on their debut and the ground breaking Lean Into It.
Eric Martin uses his melodic genius both in the songs he contributes and the vocal effort put in on Actual Size. Changing pitch mid-line and harmonizing with himself, not to mention the diversity of his delivery on various tracks, is I think, his best vocal effort to date.
He sounds in total control and with the benefit of a great producer, sounds a million bucks.
Pat Torpey is the other guy that really shines on this record. This record has a really snappy drum sound and features percussion as a dominant player on several tracks. Considering he co-wrote several tracks (with Chuck Wright and Lanny Cordola), I am not surprised. The style suits the band. Once again, his best effort since the first two albums. Richie Kotzen has settled well and truly in. This time around there is less blues and more melodic rock. Naturally it is his own brand of melodic rock, which is why I think fans of the classic line up and of the last album will both be pleased.
Richie provides an excellent additional vocalist to the band and takes a lead line every now and then, complimenting Eric's own vocals, while providing backing vocals on most other tracks. His guitar playing is also in line with the more traditional sound of the band, while retaining his bluesy feel.
In a few places, Richie gets quite flashy, with some impressive solos turned in.
To the tracks:
The album doesn't start with the barnstorming track the guys normally choose to lead with. Rather, they have chosen Lost In America, a moody pop rocker with a dark edge and even moodier, emotion filled chorus.
The rockier and fast tempo'd Wake Up is more along the lines of a lead track, but follows superbly on from the opener. This is one of the tracks of the year. Budding songwriters take note - this is melodic rock at it's finest. Once again Eric Martin harmonizes with his voice, with a snappy rhythm production and tight arrangement complimenting the track even more.
Shine was written by guitarist Richie Kotzen and is a hit single waiting to happen. I could see this track fitting on one of Richie's own solo albums easily, but with the rest of the band adding to it and Eric's more commercial vocals up front, this track is huge. A laid back almost ballad verse with a great subtle guitar riff jumps into a big chorus with harmonies & occasional co-lead vocal supplied by Kotzen. This feel good pop rock song is a major draw card and will be a worldwide single. I hope radio backs it.
The melodic rock song mater himself is involved in the acoustic driven pop ballad Arrow. Yes, Jack Blades strikes again, with this song one of two he wrote with Eric Martin. The other remains unreleased at this stage. This is a typical Mr. Big ballad, mixed with the style of the Shaw/Blades album. Another possible hit pairing?
It's back to rocking with the excellent and very catchy Mary Goes 'Round. This is another track filled with harmonies and Eric Martin's vocal acrobatics, staring off in a darker, grittier tone than usual on the verse and unusual chorus, before letting it rip on the song's bridge. Pat Torpey plays his ass off, with the song containing extra drum loops and patterns, providing the rock edge to an otherwise mid-tempo pop rocker.
It takes about 10 seconds to tell that Suffocation is going to be Richie Kotzen and Billy Sheehan's song. Together they rock this funky retro rocker big time.
This track is almost identical to the style and feel of the song Electrified and the Get Over It album in general.
One World Away is another feel good uptempo pop rocker with a smaller less over the top chorus. It's not overly heavy, but it is guitar driven and the band are tight as anything. A nice solo, some bass licks and a solid drum rhythm. A good band song and solid album track.
I Don't Want To Be Happy is the next ballad of the album, as polished as Mr. Big's ballads usually are, but isn't in the usual overly sentimental style of the band. It's fully electric for a nice change and the chorus is a moody but catchy plea.
Crawl Over Me is a good uptempo guitar driven track with a good mixed harmony chorus. A straight forward rock track that retains the commercial style of the band's classic years.
Cheap Little Thrill gets down and dirty. Eric again sings with a lower register, Richie plays some hard guitar in his bluesier style and Billy Sheehan and Pat Torpey thump out a pounding rhythm section. No big chorus, just a good tough, hard rocking album track.
How Did I Give Myself Away is a great fun song. Not as heavy as other tracks on the album, the song still rocks along at a fair pace, with another catchy hook, even if the chorus isn't as defined as it would traditionally be.
The album closes out with the required ballad. Nothing Like It In The World is a big sentimental ballad in Mr. Big's finest traditions, but again, points for being a little bit different than the norm. This semi-acoustic/electric track stands out for being bluesier and more earthy than other ballads, with a nice Hammond organ added to the mix.
Deep Dark Secret is the Japanese bonus track. Another track from the Torpey/Wright/Cordola alliance that bought several songs to the album.
I can see why the song hasn't made the worldwide cut, not because of quality, but because the style of the song is already represented on the album.
The song is a moody, slow to mid tempo rock ballad, with a strong chorus.
BOTTOM LINE: Billy wanted it heavier, but regardless of that, it is a tougher more guitar driven record. The songs are the most important thing and they are amongst the band's best and most commercial since their opening two albums.
The production is also the best since those first two records, with Zito the perfectionist again at work. Overall, this is a very classy package of catchy melodic rock songs, expertly performed and played. Sensational!
I hope this is not the last record we hear from this inspired line up.
I also hope that the recent turmoil within the band won't mean that the label gets cold feet and withdraws the worldwide release of this record. It deserves better.
ESSENTIAL FOR: All fans of Mr. Big past and present, plus fans of great American melodic rock.
STUDIO DISCOGRAPHY:Mr. Big . Lean Into It . Bump Ahead . Hey Man . Get Over It . Actual Size

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