A welcome new edition for the 30th anniversary, 1991 Lean in, the second studio album by the Los Angeles band Mr. Big, gets the luxury treatment with high-end digital mastering from the original analog tapes. Although they have been on hiatus since 2017 following the sad death of drummer Pat Torpey, the band has had a relatively stable and long career since their self-titled debut in 1989.
For those unfamiliar with Mr. Big’s origins, after leaving David Lee Roth’s backing band, bassist Billy Sheehan recruited Eric Martin (lead vocals), Paul Gilbert (guitar) and Torpey and hired Herbie Herbert (the previously headed Journey, Europe and Santana) as the band’s manager. The assembled players were already respected musicians at this point. Martin previously led his own Eric Martin band, Gilbert came out of Los Angeles courtesy of Racer X, while Torpey had worked with various artists including Belinda Carlisle, Ted Nugent, Robert Plant and Stan Bush.
Though mostly referred to as “hard rock,” Mr. Big always had a knack for combining her seditious solos and deep riffs with catchy hooks and vocal harmonies. In its original incarnation, Lean in reached number 15 on the Billboard album chart and boasted a number one hit single with “To Be With You”; a memorable, reduced country rock number with a sounding acoustic guitar and hand-clapping percussion. In fact, the entire set holds up amazingly well.
Opener “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy” hisses at high speed with Torpey’s excellent, subtly swinging drumming and lots of sharp guitar. It’s an instantly likable piece of pure kinetic fun. As with all tracks here, the production is crisp and crisp, but not too clean. The band forms a close unit with some impressive demonstrations of musical unity. The wonderfully named “Green Tinted Sixties Mind” arises with synth blasts and a refined, finger-picked electric guitar before settling down to a rolling mid-tempo number. There is admirable sonic space here, with plenty of room for individual players to contribute. Together they conjure up a deep slab of harmonic rock, with enough depth to sink a battleship and enough melody and variation to amply reward your time.
Really, one has to wonder how they didn’t get more hits. There is a commercial sheen here that is in no way forced or contrived. “Never Say Never” sounds at breathtaking speed, with outlaw country splendor and more of Torpey’s pounding, character-driven drums. “Road To Ruin” demonstrates the band’s vocal abilities, with some nice harmonies over a sweaty backdrop of pulsating bass and heavy riffs.
On this 30th Anniversary Edition we get three additional tracks – early versions of “Alive And Kickin ‘” and “Green Tinted Sixties Mind”, which fans will surely like, and of all things an entertaining reggae version of “To Be With” Sie ” which works a lot better than you might think. A total of, Lean in Well worth revisiting or discovering for the first time. It definitely sounds like early 90s rock; The sound of the album directly assigns it to a specific place and time. In the long run, however, that can only be one of our strengths, and the quality and depth of the music is quite remarkable.
~ Chris Wheatley