It is an emotional time for Mr. Big as drummer Pat Torpey recently announced he was dealing with the onset of Parkinson’s disease as the band regrouped for their second post-reformation studio album.
But they managed to do it, adding another chapter to the Mr. Big story, and delivering a different beast to the last album What If…
There’s a different vibe to this album, most likely down to the change of producer, from Kevin Shirley (who likes recording live in the studio) to Pat Regan, who takes the more traditional route.
A couple of interesting facts from the recording sessions explain the vibe of this album – one was that the guys were all individually busy, so many parts were recorded without the others present as schedules permitted time to record, and the other was the revelation from Billy Sheehan that drummer Pat doesn’t actually play live drums on the album. Instead, the two Pat’s worked together on programming drum parts to match Torpey’s style and energy.
In fact, that part of the process held up the release of the album, forcing a slight reschedule and some last minute deliveries of the master.
But I’m impressed with the job done here. Both from Pat Regan for the overall sharp, traditional Mr. Big style production (he also worked with the guys on ‘Get Over It’ and the side project ‘Influences & Connections’); and also from Pat Torpey, who delivers perhaps the best programmed drums ever.
Eric Martin sounds fabulous as always as does Paul Gilbert with his flawless master class of riffing and soloing that continues throughout.
I don’t think Billy Sheehan’s bass is as prominent in the mix as last time around. The technical flair and authority is there, just not as promiinent in the mix as on What If.
The hour long album touches on a few aspects of the band’s sound and career to date. There’s definitely some of the bluesy ‘Get Over It’ influences here, despite that album not featuring guitarist Paul Gilbert; there is also some touches of the debut from way back in ’89 as well as Bump Ahead and of course the most recent release What If.
There is also a strong influence of 70s rock n roll throughout, a loose bluesy vibe that blends into the band’s sound.
All in all, it’s Mr. Big and its good!
I think the album runs a little long as there’s a couple of tracks in the back half of the album that more or less repeat what’s come before, if the album had been cut to 11 tracks it might have been a little more concise.
Gotta Love The Ride is a bombastic bluesy rocker. A solid groove, nice guitar solo and a chorus that seems restrained but gets better each listen. A cool track!
I Forget To Breathe is another up-tempo blues based rocker with a big groove. Billy's bass not nearly as prominent in mix as last album. Another pretty simple chorus....but it rocks and I like it. I'm hearing some 'Get Over It' here. Great guitar solo.
The wonderfully melodic Fragile was my pick of the album from day 1 and continues to be. A real Mr. Big sounding track with the same type of vibe as the equally brilliant "Undertow".
Satisfied took some time to grow on me. Back to the 70s blues rock again and I'm a 80s guy, so I wasn’t sure, but it has grown into a fine track. A very melodic vocal bridge that hints at a big chorus that doesn't arrive.
Its ballad time. The Man Who Has Everything is a familiar Mr. Big acoustic driven ballad. Still carrying that 70s feel though. Big soulful vocal by Eric Martin - another possible single here I'd expect. Some orchestral backing makes it fuller in sound.
The Monster In Me still has that bluesy 70s sound going through it. The mid-tempo, heavy rocker was another track that grew on me and it’s jerky, abrupt chorus is cool.
What If I Were New sees the band is sounding like The Rolling Stones. A different vibe for sure and perhaps one of the lesser quality tracks on the album. Interesting chorus. I wouldn't call it catchy, but it's original and the choppy Paul Gilbert guitar work is cool.
East/West features acoustic intro and first 30 seconds before band comes to life. Acoustic base, but electric also. A feel good song this and a traditional Mr. Big commercial pop/rocker.
The Light Of Day is a fast rocker with a big groove, big guitars and bass, fast moving vocal and chorus, with Eric in fine voice as ever.
Just Let Your Heart Decide - ballad time again. Deep sultry vocal from Eric and an extremely good chorus. Just like 'What If', the second big ballad on the album is the better one. No Mr. Big fan is going to dislike this one.
It's Always About That Girl - this is another mi-tempo 70s groover. Not as into this as earlier tracks and sees the band repeating themselves a little here.
As is the case with the slow/mid-tempo groove based track Cinderella Smile. Simple chorus, stop/start slow groove and a track that brings a slow tempo to the closing part of the album.
The Stories We Could Tell is unfortunately another slow-mid-tempo 70s groover.
Interesting track, but not the most instant or catchy tune out there and similar to a couple of others on the album. A good chorus, some nice bass fills from Billy and more classy playing from Paul. But three slowish 70s groove tracks in a row to close the album is too many.
I would have cut Cinderella Smile and It’s Always About That Girl.
For the European release there is the bonus track Addicted To That Rush (Live). Now, being the musical snob I am, I just can’t endorse live tracks tacked onto the end of studio albums. It just doesn’t sit right with me that an all-new studio album closes with an old live track.
Add to that the fact the quality of this live track is horrible. The instrumentation is clear enough, but the vocals sound as if they were piped in from the lavatory backstage. Very hollow and low in volume. It’s a real shame as the sheer energy of Pat Torpey and world class guitar soloing from Paul and Billy throughout is otherwise stunning.
The Japanese release adds the bonus track 30 Days In The Hole (Live). Again, the playing is nothing short of exquisite, but next to studio material it just doesn’t sound right or match the production values.
The Japanese Special Edition sees the band add a bonus disc of 10 re-recorded classics. The Japanese are becoming increasingly generous with their extra features to entice a shrinking market into buying and it worked for me!
The tracks covered include the fan favorites Addicted To That Rush, Colorado Bulldog, Daddy Brother Lover Little Boy, Green Tinted Sixties Mind and Take Cover.
There’s not a dramatic overhaul of these tracks in any way. More or less, they are just an updated sound, consistent with the production of the new material and the odd tweak here and there with vocals, backing vocals and guitar and bass riffs. Long time Mr. Big fans will hear the differences, casual fans won’t. But it’s well worth getting.
The Stories We Could Tell is a big, groovy, rocking album, but not the chorus heavy style of Mr. Big's most commercial tracks.
It is also not an instant album, but it has the same Mr. Big appeal as always for me and has been on high rotation now for many weeks. I’m still loving the tracks I love and still not warming to the last few.
The guys’ individual performances are as special as we always expect from these phenomenal musicians.
Be prepared for a different sound and a more retro groove based style.
Another great Mr. Big album, but it's going to have to appeal to people's individual tastes a little more than past albums.