When What If... came out in 2011, it heralded the much anticipated comeback of Mr. Big with some of their most mature and thoughtful songs to date, but without losing the energetic appeal of the band's most popular material. Songs like Undertow and As Far As I Can See showed a more focused and relaxed group compared to the quartet's last work together, 1995's Hey Man. Well, that trend largely continues with ...The Stories We Could Tell. The name alone suggests a resolution to the sentence begun previously, as if the full statement were "What if they made a big Hollywood production of the story of Mr. Big? Oh, the stories we could tell."
The lyrics have become more introspective and philosophical over the years, and the playing has become more mature and refined. Back in the day, Paul Gilbert was barely 23, fresh out of Racer X and hungry to prove to the world his guitar mastery in a more radio-friendly but hard rocking ensemble. Today, he's a recording and touring veteran with scores of fans spanning the globe. Having nothing left to prove, his playing is restrained and confident (while still technically amazing), and perfect for the current version of the band he helped found a quarter of a century ago.
But, let's get to ...The Stories We Could Tell. For the most part, this is much like an extension of What If..., having the same "it's good to be back" easiness to it all. The heavier songs sound like they could be future bar band classics while the slower ones demonstrate the template for modern AOR ballads - right down to the string section backing the chimey acoustic strumming of The Man Who Has Everything. It's so "perfect" that it might be called formulaic if it were made by a younger, modern band, but here it's the simply the reflexive output of masters of their trade. If I'm forced to find any fault with the album, I would say that I wanted to hear a lot more from Billy [Sheehan], whose legendary fills and runs seemed more subdued this time. And Eric Martin, who's one of the best rock vocalists around, seems to be getting lower in the register these days, but his constant, infectious energy seems ageless. There's a reason these guys are a no-brainer for a go-to live band.
The Bottom Line: Fans of Mr. Big will surely enjoy another dose of these hard rock veterans, whereas new fans may likely come across this in their parents' music collection and find this to be a master class in rock music songwriting. Either way, this is the epitome of good rock music. If you're looking for the "next big thing", look elsewhere. Why worry about old dogs coming up with new tricks when they've already mastered (and can still do) all the best ones?
- Genghis is still addicted to that rush 25 years later...