Mr. Big / Ten Is The Ultimate Farewell Album

The announcement that Mr. Big was releasing a new album came as a most pleasant surprise, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to share my thoughts on it. From the moment I heard the insane opening of Addicted To That Rush all those years ago, I was instantly hooked on their collective virtuosity, songwriting craft, infectious melodies, and sublime vocal harmonies.

MR. BIG – Ten (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

Release Date: 12 July 2024

Words: Sophie James

On 12 July 2024, Mr. Big released their tenth and ‘farewell’ album, appropriately titled Ten.

Following co-founder and inspirational drummer Pat Torpey’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease in 2014, the seasoned Matt Starr assisted with touring commitments and recording 2017’s Defying Gravity. 

Tragically, Pat lost his battle the following year, so Ten now sees ex-Spock’s Beard stickman Nick D’Virgilio enter the fold.

Mr. Big - Ten - Each subsequent play deepens the level of enchantment.
Mr. Big – Ten – Each subsequent play deepens the level of enchantment.

Launching right out of the traps with lead single Good Luck Trying, there is an intrinsic energy in the vibrant mix. To my ears, at least, it contains musical shades of Kiss, Hendrix and Free, but combined, it is all so unmistakably Mr Big. 

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The variance in the pace adds to its charm before we get a facemelting solo from Paul Gilbert which follows suit. Nick’s intricate and frenetic drumming blends right in. Those who caught them on their recent tour no doubt witnessed the emergence of a special bond with the ace of bass that is Billy Sheehan.

Mr. Big - Photo: Joel Barrios
Mr. Big – Photo: Joel Barrios

One track in, and already the question needs to be asked, just how does Eric Martin sound so damn good after all these years?

“We’re all chasing some salvation in every empty can.”

I Am You is a reflective view of a relationship, but with its brisk pace and characteristic Big melodies, it steers well clear of any form of mushiness. 

“I’m a fool for your hoodoo!”

Right Outta Here commences with a sumptuous middle eastern flavoured guitar intro before the main body kicks in with a funky bluesy groove.
Rather than call-and-response phrasing, the guitar fluently emulates the vocals during the verses. 

So far, I love how they mix styles and paces within the duration of a single song.

“I’m a sucker for love’s revolving door.”

Sunday Morning Kinda Girl possesses such a feel-good, summery, almost ’60s like stomp. Its uplifting melody and vivacity provide one of the highlights of the album. One gets the feeling that this will be a joy to play live.

With a wonderful Mayesque solo from Paul that is so close to the master’s style, one does indeed wonder if the astrophysical one has made a cameo appearance.

“A Queen for more than just one day, to hell with the ones that got away.”

“Everybody stumbles and falls.”

No Mr. Big album would be complete without a humongous, precisely crafted ballad, and track five, Who We Are, is just that, conjuring images of a collective after-hours jam in some basement blues joint.

What strikes you most about the song is Paul’s sublime playing. Such a virtuoso, he makes it all sound so deceptively simple while the solo is a thing of restrained majesty.

The intro to As Good As It Gets incorporates further ‘shades of May’.  
While it has a comparatively lighter, jangly, more commercial feel, Nick’s drumming is so reminiscent of ‘The Loon’, and at this point, one has to commend Eric on the accuracy of his vocal phrasing throughout.

“What Were You Thinking when you told me that I wasn’t the one?”

Uncommonly for Mr Big, What Were You Thinking is a straight-ahead barroom boogie and an utter delight. It is the kind of tune that has folks serenading and dancing with their beer.

Along with Sunday Morning Kinda Girl, a standout track.

“You can be courageous, no one else can save you but yourself.”

A noticeable thing is that each track has its own distinct identity and Courageous is no different. The fuzzy guitar tone immediately grabs your attention while the other characteristic ingredients weave so fluidly around it. This exemplifies just how deep Paul has reached into his creative core and extracted something new and fascinating in each composition.

Second single, Up On You, has the feel of Skin’s Look But Don’t Touch with a wee bit of ’80s Kiss thrown in for good measure. So effervescent, it generates that Friday night feeling. While Paul’s soloing thus far has been so harmonious, precise, and relatively restrained, here he seriously lets loose.

“I once was an indelible figure, now I don’t even fit in the frame.”

Penultimate track The Frame is a delicate reflection on the narrator’s life. So beautifully ambient and melodic, one can trust Eric to deliver a suitably sensitive lamentful vocal.

While the above constitutes the basic album, European audiences are treated to an additional gem in the form of 8 Days On The Road. Originally recorded by soulman Howard Tate, later by the legendary Aretha and then in rambunctious style by Foghat, stylistically this harks back to 30 Days In The Hole and their classic take on that eponymous cover.

While sonically on the same page as what preceded, it possesses a looser ‘jam’ feel with Messrs Sheehan and Gilbert unleashing their virtuosity in a freeform exhibition of how to make their instruments talk.

For those who appreciate such unshackled demonstrations of musical mastery, you will be listening with a huge smile on your mush.

Overall, this is such a polished collection that it makes for a most enjoyable listen throughout. As Eric says, “This is raw, unadulterated riff rock and blues with all the Mr. Big trimmings,” to which I am in wholehearted agreement.  Each subsequent play deepens the level of enchantment.

The qualities mentioned in the introduction are still abundantly present. However, based on this evidence, I would say they are now more focused, combined with the added refinement that maturity and experience bring.  

If this does prove to be their swansong, then it is a reminder of just how consistent the quality of their output has been over the past few decades as well as being a fitting tribute to their dearly departed brother.

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