To Be With You

REVIEW: Mr. Big – Big, Bigger, Biggest! The Best Of (1996)

MR. BIG – Big, Bigger, Biggest! The Best Of (1996 Atlantic)

The mid-90s were the time that every hard rock band in the world released a greatest hits.  Why?  Most of them either split, got dropped by the label, or both.  Tesla, King’s X, Slaughter, Extreme, and Mr. Big are among the sidelined bands whose labels released a greatest hits mid-decade.

Big’s at least had four unreleased tracks, topping off 12 familiar cuts from their first four albums.  Three of the songs were newly recorded.  Unfortunately, the label stacked a bunch of ballads and made this disc really hard to finish in one sitting.  The running order and track selection is a little wonky.

“Addicted to that Rush” is the jet-speed opener, as it should be.  Big’s 1989 debut was instrumentally thrilling but light on hits.  A so-so album track, “Rock & Roll Over” should probably have been left off.  Lean Into It (1991) was the big one.  “To Be With You” sits at track 4, because the CD is chronological, but the song has always worked better in the closing position.  Placing it at track 4 is anticlimactic.  Lean Into It spawned three more singles, all present:  “Green Tinted Sixties Mind“, “Just Take My Heart”, and “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy”.  This spurt of songs is a bit too soft.  Two are ballads, one a pop track, leaving only one to instrumentally smoke you.  That’s unfortunate because their cover of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” is next in the pack.  Though it is a fabulous and underappreciated cover, it’s too much mush at the start of the CD.

A buyer who picks this CD up as their first and only Mr. Big purchase will assume they are just another pop rock band.  Another Bon Jovi, another Warrant.  Though there are some serious moments of instrumental shreddery, that side of the band is too overlooked.  “Colorado Bulldog” from 1993’s Bump Ahead is about the only remaining song with that kind of force.  This is why suits shouldn’t compile CDs.  Their studio albums are more balanced.

Unfortunately, none of the four unreleased songs are spectacular.  The acoustic ballad “Seven Impossible Days” is from a Japanese EP called Japandemonium.  The other three are new recordings.  “Not One Night” is another acoustic ballad.  Sonically beautiful, but it’s too much saccharine.  “Unnatural” isn’t a ballad per se, but it is mostly acoustic (and features the lead vocals of guitarist Paul Gilbert).  “Stay Together”, which is a dead ringer for vintage Van Hagar, is probably the best of these four songs.

Big, Bigger, Biggest! The Best Of Mr. Big does not represent the Mr. Big that fans have known all these years.  Their favourite songs are rarely the ballads.  Too many killer deep cuts are missing, and, I hate to sound like a broken record, there are too many ballads!

2.5/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: Mr. Big – “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind” / “To Be With You” singles

Part 2 of a 2 part Mr. Big special.  Click here if you missed Lean Into It!

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MR. BIG – “Green Tinted Sixties Mind” (1991 Warner UK 7″ single)

I won’t talk about the song “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind”; I did that already.  (In short:  “classy and cool”.)  I picked up this 7″ promo import from the UK from a record show in London (Ontario).  At $5, it was a no-brainer purchase.  The sleeve is cardboard, not paper, and pretty cool.

I was in the dark as to what the B-side “Shadows” was.  The label indicated the song is from 1990, and produced by Giorgio Moroder.  Although it’s not credited as such, that would make the song from the Navy Seals soundtrack.  They didn’t write it, so it doesn’t sound like Mr. Big.  It’s very “hard rock” circa 1990.  I could swear parts of the verse melody are directly ripped off of Whitesnake.  So, “Shadows” is a curiosity, nothing to get too excited about.

I know there was a second song from the Navy Seals soundtrack called “Strike Like Lightning”, if you’re interested in tracking it down.  Also on the soundtrack was Bon Jovi’s cover of “The Boys Are Back In Town” and “Try” by Blue freakin’ Rodeo!  How the hell did that happen?

MR BIG_0005MR. BIG – “To Be With You” (1992 Warner Europe CD single)

Like with the other single, I want to focus on the B-sides.  I will say that this version of “To Be With You” is an uncredited edit version.  It’s 6 seconds shorter and lacks the count-in.  This German import CD single has three live tracks.  I found this one at Fairview Mall in Kitchener, an incredible score for the time!

Mr. Big sound like they are killer live.  “30 Days In the Hole” is more spontaneous and funky than its album counterpart.  It’s a lot more fun, and man could this band groove.  The Tokyo crowd clearly loves it too.

In crashes the old Talas/David Lee Roth speed demon, “Shy Boy”!  The band can pull it off musically, Sheehan repeating his bass magic, and Gilbert having no problem with a lightning fast solo. The only one who can’t keep up is vocalist Eric Martin.  His normal soulful voice isn’t right for a song that was defined by David Lee Roth.

The final track is a medley.  They first tease the Japanese audience with the first couple minutes of “Woman From Tokyo”, before switching gears to “Baba O’Riley”.  It’s all but seamless, and natural.  Gilbert plays the synth lines, but on his guitar.  Meanwhile Sheehan handles the riff, on his bass.  Martin shines on this one, much more at home with a song like this.  He really gets to stretch out, and I love it.  Sounds like Gilbert singing Townsend’s vocal part.  Really cool.

“Green-Tinted Sixties Mind” – 3/5 stars

“To Be With You” – 4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Mr. Big – Lean Into It (1991)

Today, the album.  Tomorrow, the singles!  Yes it’s a two-part Mr. Big feature!  Happy long weekend, hope you’re partying safely!  

MR. BIG – Lean Into It (1991 Atlantic)

Yeah yeah yeah…”To Be With You”!   As Mr. Big said themselves on a later album, “Get over it”!

I’ve always considered Mr. Big to be more shred-lite than glam metal or pop metal. After all, with credentials like these…Talas…Racer X…Impelliteri…these guys know how to play. Eric Martin is a unique blue-eyed-soul singer, one of a kind, absolutely brilliant.  Martin and the band also know how to write catchy hard rock tunes. Combine that with their playing pedigree and adventurous arrangements, and I’ll call ’em shred-lite if you let me. And this is a pretty damn good album for rockers who want just a touch of integrity in their pop.

The opener kicks you right in the nuts with one of the best Big tunes ever, “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)” (whew).  The album starts with an adrenaline rush straight to the head.  Why the “Electric Drill Song”?  Because it opens with the sound of Paul Gilbert and Billy Sheehan playing their instruments with electric drills with guitar picks glued to the bit!  In unison?  Basically spoofing the whole “How fast can you play?” question, Big’s creativity make this speed rocker a standout.

“Alive and Kickin'” is nothing more than a hard rocker with soulful vocal and killer chorus, but “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind” is classy and cool. Pure pop with an incredible retro melody and adventurous guitar arrangement, this first single went tragically ignored.  I don’t remember it getting much airplay though it deserved it.  I’m not sure if the world of 1991 would have accepted a song like this from a hard rock band.

“CDFF – Lucky This Time” is another weird title. See, “CDFF” stands for CD Fast Forward which is the sound you’re hearing at the opening of this rather ordinary ballad. The only thing really oustanding about this song is Billy’s rumbling bass groove.  The guy doesn’t sound like anybody else, and he raises the song to another level.  “CDFF”  is followed by the cool and swampy “Voodoo Kiss”, which ended side 1 of the original album.

Side 2 kicked off with another pop rocker, “Never Say Never”, co-written by Canada’s own Jim Vallance. Catchy but non-descript. “Just Take My Heart” is the second ballad, and a forgettable song to me. “My Kinda Woman” kicks the adrenaline back in. Yet it is Paul Gilbert’s “A Little Too Loose” that rekindles the creative fires on this album. Bluesy and fun, this was one of the high points of this record. “Road To Ruin” shows off the vocal harmonies of the guys, all good singers in their own right. It’s another creative arrangement. Then, of course, the album ends with “To Be With You” which, hard to believe, was actually a really creative song too!  Before it got played to death. Now, it’s the typical rock ballad, but at the time of release, it was very different from the kind of ballads that other bands were putting out, except possibly Extreme.  It has a sparse, vocal-oriented arrangement, an acoustic guitar solo, and no drums to speak of.

Tomorrow we’ll be talking about two singles from this album “Green-Tinted  Sixties Mind”, and “To Be With You” itself, both of which have worthwhile rare songs!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensryche – Empire (20th Anniversary Edition)

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QUEENSRŸCHE – Empire (2010 EMI 20th Anniversay Edition)

20 years?  Wow, they sure flew by for me! When Empire first came out I bought it on cassette, and even back then I thought it was a bit too commercial. That’s not to say Empire is a bad album, but coming off Mindcrime and the killer first single “Empire”, I expected something heavier.

Now with the benefit of hindsight, you can really hear a band coming into their own identity. Empire is kind of the end of the old “heavy metal” Queensryche and the beginning of the newer more diverse Queensryche. The next album, Promised Land was a another stride further away from sheer metal, but more successfully achieved.

This box set, very nice looking and all, would have been better released as an individual live album, because disc one is identical to the previous Queensryche remaster version. The bonus tracks are the same. (“Last Time In Paris” from the Ford Fairlaine soundtrack, “Scarborough Fair” from the “Anybody Listening” single, and “Dirty L’il Secret” from the much later “I Am I” single.  Yes, “Scarborough Fair” is a Simon and Garfunkel cover.  Much more gothic though!)

The live album is from the same tour (but not the same show) as the Operation: Livecrime album. Think of this as representative of Queensryche’s non-Mindcrime live set, so if you have both albums you kind of have one complete show. It’s a good live album, although without the Mindcrime material to balance it, it is way too Empire-heavy. 7 of the 10 tracks are from Empire. That’s not me complaining really, just an observation of the feel of the set, as an album. For non-Empire material, you get the awesome “Walk In The Shadows,” “Roads to Madness”, and “Take Hold Of The Flame”, representing the first couple Queensryche full-lengths.

(As an added note, the Operation: Livecrime reissue also had one additional song not on this, which was “The Lady Wore Black” originally from the first EP.)

The live stuff sounds great, very clear with a good performance by the band. Tate is in peak voice at this point — he nails all the notes in “Take Hold”! The whole band sounds really good, especially in the backing vocals department. It also sounds pretty live and not messed with, which is my preference.  I’m sure there are backing tapes, Queensryche do use them, but the overall feel was one of spontaneity.  The liner notes claim there are no overdubs whatsoever.

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If you’re not familiar with the Empire album and you’re buying it for the first time, you are definitely going to be familiar with most of the album’s six singles:

  • “Empire”, the dark forboding tale of drug trafficking, with killer spoken word-style vocals from Geoff Tate.
  • “Best I Can”, the power pop rock song, with uplifting (but cheesey) lyrics.
  • “Silent Lucidity” one of the three songs that defined the term “power ballad” in the summer of 1991. (The other two were “More Than Words” by Extreme and “To Be With You” by Mr. Big.) A great song with brilliantly sparse-yet-lush arrangement. Still stands up today!
  • “Jet City Woman”, my personal favourite simply for that unstoppable bass groove.
  • “Anybody Listening?”, the epic album closer, and one of the all time best songs Queensryche have ever written.
  • “Another Rainy Night”, not one of the better songs, in my opinion. Kind of repeats the pop rock stylings of “Best I Can” but with lyrics about missing some girl.

There are also buried treasures within the album tracks. “Resistance” feels like a polished-up Mindcrime outtake for sheer tempo and mood. “Della Brown” is unlike anything the band ever attempted before, an atmospheric tale of a homeless woman that foreshadows the direction of Promised Land.

The band were really gelling at this point, and an album like this makes me really wish Chris DeGarmo was still in the band. He wrote or co-wrote almost every song, and his backing vocals really enrich the record. Everybody was playing great, though, and big props to Eddie Jackson for his killer bass sound.

The package includes an Empire poster, booklet, and five postcards featuring stills from the “Empire” music video.

To sum up, there is absolutely nothing wrong musically with this album, or the bonus live album. This is a 5 star album for music, for packaging, for sound, and all that stuff. I have to deduct one star simply because the first disc is just the same Empire I already owned and I think the live disc on its own could have been released alone for the 20th anniversary of Empire.

4/5 stars (5 for music -1 for rebuying the album, again!)

More Queensryche:

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part I

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part II

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part III

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part IV