American supergroup’s debut album set a new precedent for hard rock musicianship in 1989
The immediate buzz of melodic hard rockers Mr. Big’s 1989 eponymous debut album brought instant recognition to bassist extraordinaire Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Talas), soulful vocalist Eric Martin (Eric Martin Band), shredder Paul Gilbert (Racer X) and the late, great powerhouse drummer Pat Torpey (Impellitteri, Ted Nugent).
By combining dazzling musicianship with soaring, soul-drenched vocal harmonies, impeccable songwriting and a kick ass rock ’n’ roll attitude, the veteran rock foursome created 11 musical gems with pristine perfection.
Unfortunately, this huge rock sound was for the most part overlooked in the early ’90s due to the rise of grunge rock. In addition, Mr. Big was unjustifiably lumped into the “hair metal” genre, which was essentially on its way out. In contrast to the Poisons and Mötley Crües of the era, Mr. Big’s musicianship and commercial appeal made them stand out amongst the ’80s pretty boys.
The 11 tracks that grace the album exceed expectations from start to finish. The driving force behind explosive album opener, “Addicted to that Rush,” is that addictive (pun intended), ascending, arpeggio bass/guitar tandem intro. It’s a one of a kind powerhouse of a lick that leaves the listener dizzy, and one of the best starts to an album that anyone could ever ask for.
VIDEO: “Addicted To That Rush”
“Wind Me Up” continues with the band’s trademark shredding bass/guitar harmonies, which also boasts a carefully crafted and infectious chorus that stays with you long after the track ends. The slinky “Merciless,” with its huge singalong chorus, is the perfect follow-up and keeps the album rolling along nicely.
The band changes dynamics with the power ballad vibe of “Had Enough.” It’s a track that fit right in next to Whitesnake and the like on later editions of Headbangers Ball. The stomping rocker “Blame It on My Youth” is something Van Halen might’ve done at the time, while “Take a Walk” capitalizes on its huge rocking’ riff and slow-grinding, bluesy Tesla-esque swagger.
The back end of the album was more melodic and contained more slower-tempoed tracks. “Big Love” also possesses a slow-burning ballad-esque vibe that was popular throughout this era. “How Can You Do What You Do” was a mid-paced rocker with soaring vocal harmonies with a hooky chorus, while “Anything For You” was the sign of ballads to come within Mr. Big’s catalog. Meanwhile, “Rock & Roll Over” builds to a classic ’80s-styled guitar riff with a huge, singalong chorus.
Closing out the record is a live version of the oft-covered Humble Pie cover “30 Days in the Hole” (Kick Axe anyone?). It’s a decent rendition, but for a band of this caliber, they could’ve done one more original or a better cover tune that would’ve catered to its dazzling musicianship more.
Overall, Mr. Big’s 1989 self-titled debut album is a great, feel-good album with a hearty mix of upbeat rockers that get the blood pumping, the butt grooving and the head bobbing in fine, energetic fashion. It was a sign of what the band’s potential would create on its subsequent albums. Mr. Big even went on to top its debut with 1991’s commercial breakthrough Lean into It, by creating one of its biggest ballads, “To Be With You,” reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts.
Mr. Big’s debut album still holds up well after all these years and will go down in history as one of the best debut albums from a late 80s rock band.
AUDIO: Mr. Big (full album)