Sound: Mr. Big is the sort of band that gives Rock music some much needed credibility in 21st century music. The band has never shied away from the heart string pulling ballad, and, with the success of To Be With You all those years ago, there was every possibility that What If... could have resulted in a collection of eulogies to past conquests, recorded in the chart-friendly Rock ballad format that so tamely graces music charts and RIAA-certified platinum selling records.
Fortunately, Mr. Big lays down the gauntlet with the terrifically energetic openerUndertowwetting the appetite of everyone listening to What If.... The quality of musician on show is supported by a strong sense of song writing, and some obvious natural chemistry amongst the band members. The riffs are tight, the solos challenging to the aural, and the vocals well harmonised. This insistence upon the prominence of vocal harmonies is what transforms this album from three star-status to four and more; the fact that the recording process has not mitigated the character of the vocal harmonies by overproduction is the gloss on a finely tuned end product.
In spite of both the collective and individual virtuosity on record, Mr. Big's success on What If... rests upon the band's knowing when to flaunt it. Stranger in my Life presents so many opportunities for Sheehan to really show off his bass guitar playing, but, instead, he manages to contribute to the song, keeping the technical side of his work to a high, but measured level. Paul Gilbert does not cut any corners with a magnificently worked guitar solo towards the end of the track, but he only proceeds to overwhelmingly technical playing after building the song up to such an apex worthy of a solo to top it all off. It is, after all, an anti-climax to put the cherry underneath the Sundae.
What If... represents four musicians at the top of their game. The band functions in a big way, both as individuals and as a unit. The album flows well, without any obvious ballads, and nothing nearly as slow and emotional as To Be With You. As if to emphasise their point, the guys have not only recorded excellent songs, but have arranged them in such a way that there is a tremendous sense of ebb and flow to What If.... The drama and delivery is perhaps best demonstrated by I Won't Get in My Way, perhaps the outstanding song of the album; everything clicks on this song - the riffs blending seamlessly into solos, and the rhythm section providing all of the fist punching, boot stomping furore that is fundamental to Rock music. // 8
Lyrics: Eric Martin is a much underrated member of Mr. Big, and although this is to be expected with the show-stealing Gilbert and Sheehan, there is nothing in the instruction manual to suggest that credit shouldn't be given where it is due. Martin hits all of the notes he needs to hit, superbly translating his range into delectable packages of Pop bliss that happen to be Mr. Big's songs. His fluid singing voice is refreshing in an environment in which screaming has arguable grown to be more important than singing.
What Martin's lyrics lack in intellectual rigour, they compensate in emotional amplitude. He strikes a chord with anyone who has a partner, and that's what makes Mr. Big so welcome. There is nothing artificial to this band. // 7
Overall Impression: Mr. Big is everything that is right about Rock music, but at the same time shares in the provision of the biggest indictment of modern day Rock music; it seems that the old guard's insistence upon reunions is not but a mere nostalgic phenomenon, but an unflattering evaluation of modern music. // 8
- Samuel Agini (c) 2011