"But they're big in Japan..."
That's one of the lines that gets trotted out when a band doesn't seem to be gaining the traction it should. It started with Cheap Trick, but it's equally applicable to Mr Big. Despite the band only having modest success in America, they have established themselves as a force overseas. That has allowed this current run to carry forward, as the band has been as active and productive as at any point since their first run of glory. Their last two albums have been strong showings, and they've even cranked out a few tracks, like "Undertow", that in a more just rock climate would have gotten airplay over here.
Mr Big has always been a harder-edged band than they get credit for, but this time around they take a slightly different route with the music. The last couple of albums have been solid mixes of powerful hard rock and heavy blues-type tracks. This time around, however, the band takes a far more laid-back approach. The initial tracks on this album come out of the gate with a restrained energy, and not hitting you right in the face. That's not at all what I was expecting. "Open Your Eyes" and the title track both have the blues in their DNA, and move with the deliberate pace that might convey. The title track, in particular, does manage to stretch out into a solid chorus, but even then it doesn't sound quite as propulsive as what I consider the band's best songs.
Like their biggest hit, we get an acoustic ballad here as well, but "Damn I'm In Love Again" is no "To Be With You". It doesn't hit the three minute mark, and in its short time doesn't have anything I could identify as the hook. That's disappointing, since Eric Martin has more than enough voice to make those sorts of songs work. His recent experiences with Avantasia, both on record and tour, have put his name back out there as a singer of note. With that, it's hard to listen to him singing melodies that don't give him anything interesting to do.
There's another issue here. The album was recorded live in the studio, which is fine, but the production is severely lacking. The guitars sound weak and blurry. "Mean To Me" is supposed to be a speedy, technical run up and down the fretboard, but the solo is the only place where Paul Gilbert's guitar doesn't sound like the amp has been muffled. That quick riff needs to be played with a clean and sharp tone to bite, and that's not at all what we get here. Heaviness actually comes through clarity.
The thing of note, for me, is that this is the bluesiest I've ever heard Mr Big. I'm sure that is going to please plenty of people, but it disappointed me. I am not a fan of the blues, or heavily blues-based rock and roll. I find it lacking in the melodic department, and that's what "Defying Gravity" is for me. It's just not the music I was expecting, nor the music I wanted. Mr Big are all fantastic musicians, and I have plenty of respect for all of them and the music they've made, but this one just isn't for me. And now that I've said that, I'd all but guarantee this will be their most successful album in ages. I'm often wrong like that.