Fourteen years after the desertion of guitarist Paul Gilbert comes the melodic hard rock album that even Mr Big’s four original band members advised us not to expect.
In attaining multi-platinum success and a run of hits, including the ballad To Be With You, the US band scotched the conventional rock’n’roll notion that first-rate musicianly chops and hummable hooks can never be compatible bedfellows.
Produced in an overdub-free whirlwind by the increasingly ubiquitous Kevin Shirley, What If… offers an instant refresher course of the quartet’s talents, from the album’s impressive video calling card of Undertow to the sassy American Beauty (with distinct echoes of bassist Billy Sheehan’s work alongside David Lee Roth), by way of the psychedelic-tinged All The Way Up and the power balladry of Stranger In My Life.
The contributions of Sheehan and Gilbert reach a muscular climax during Around The World, drummer Pat Torpey the silent partner, sticking them together like glue throughout, while Eric Martin’s voice – a mixture of soulful blues wailing and hard rock preening – hasn’t aged a single day over the years since their last outing.
Granted, there’s nothing as saccharine-friendly as To Be With You this time around, but if MTV still played real music, Mr Big would be stars once again.