“OK, we’re rolling.” With those three declarative words (spoken by producer Kevin Elson right after the music kicks in on ‘Open Your Eyes’, an instant callback to the beginning of ‘Addicted to That Rush’, the hard-charging lead track on the band’s self-titled 1989 debut), Mr. Big plants the flag between past, present, and future with ‘Defying Gravity’, the band’s ninth original studio album.
Recorded in just six days at Ocean Studios in Burbank, California, the album reunites Mr. Big with the aforementioned Elson (Journey, Europe, Lynyrd Skynyrd), who is back behind the boards for the first time since helming the band’s first four albums. ‘Defying Gravity’ deftly showcases that patented Mr. Big blend of crunch and melody, from the freight-train ride of opening cut ‘Open Your Eyes’ to the harmony-laden wonderment of ‘Damn I’m In Love Again’ to the nostalgia trip of ‘1992’ (recalling the days when the band was flying high atop the singles charts with their international smash ‘To Be With You’) to the barnstorming slide-blues closing track, ‘Be Kind’. Overall, the album is prime evidence that the only thing Mr. Big remains tethered to is their ongoing pursuit of achieving creative excellence.
“It’s inspiring to work with Mr. Big,” observes guitarist/songwriter Paul Gilbert, who penned much of the material on the new album. “I know that any ideas I bring into the studio have to go through our long-established band filter, which means the songs all have to rock, have melody, and put a grin on the faces of all of my bandmates to make the final cut.” What that means is Gilbert, lead vocalist Eric Martin, bassist Billy Sheehan, and drummer Pat Torpey all have to agree collectively on the finished product — as does touring drummer Matt Starr, who also joined in on the studio proceedings this time around. That tried-and-true “all for one, one for all” mentality is one of the main things that fuels Mr. Big to reach for new heights whenever they are recording. “That’s what makes a band a band,” believes Torpey. “I think we all feel that way. It’s not one guy’s vision that the other guys all just follow. We’re always kicking ideas around to come to some kind of consensus. And that makes Mr. Big music what it is.” Adds Sheehan, “I like recording with a sense of urgency. Put a mike in front of us, roll tape, and that should sound like what you’re hearing from us live. When you can create that kind of pressure in the studio in a short amount of time, it makes for better songs — and better performances.”
Mr. Big’s keen combination of their virtuosic nature with a DNA-infused sense of melody continues to enable listeners the ability to sing along to every word they hear. Not a lot of acts can do that as deftly as Mr. Big does, and ‘Defying Gravity’ finds this still-hungry band collectively leaning into it to push their music into new stratospheres. Climb aboard.
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