Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
The period from approximately 1985 to 1992 was famous (or notorious, depending on your point of view) for the ascendancy of Melodic Hard Rock, where success was measured as much by how big the hair was, how big the overall sound was, how high the vocalist could sing and how fast the guitarist could churn out the widdly solos.
Originality wasn’t necessarily the name of the game and for every absolute gem of a band or peach of an album, there were two or three decent ‘also rans’ and some downright dreadful fodder. Just occasionally though, there would be some kind of shift in the fabric of space and time and a band would come along and blow the rest clean out of the water. US Supergroup Mr Big are one such band!
The amount of talent in Mr Big is utterly astounding: guitarist Paul Gilbert, a player from the Mike Varney school of shred, and previously a member of Shred-Metallers Racer X is a man of jaw-dropping technique. What he cannot do on a guitar isn’t worth mentioning.
Add bass virtuoso Billy Sheehan, who had treaded the boards with former Van Halen vocalist David Lee Roth’s solo band alongside guitar genius Steve Vai, drummer Pat Torpey (who sadly passed away in 2018) who had drummed with John ‘St Elmo’s Fire’ Parr and Belinda Carlisle and here was a match made in heaven.
Add baby-faced vocalist Eric Martin who had enjoyed a reasonably successful solo career and whose voice could (and still can) move mountains and you have the icing on a very sweet cake!
The Mr Big debut album in 1989 was a breath of fresh air. It was not the usual overproduced multi-layered affair that the late 80s were rightly famous for, but instead had a raw charm that, welded to incredibly melodic songwriting and utterly brilliant virtuoso performances impressed critics and rock fans alike. However, this was nothing compared to what followed in 1991 with the incredible ‘Lean Into It’.
With ‘Lean Into It’, the band managed to keep just enough of the raw power of the debut, while adding a little more polish to the overall sound, the guitars in particular having a sharper and more powerful tone. They also, somewhat incredibly, upped the ante on the songwriting front as well.
One or more of the band members had a hand in co-writing every song on the album and heavyweight writers like Jeff Paris, Jim Valance and Andre Pessis were brought along for the ride. The result is an album which, despite only making number 49 in Rolling Stone’s ‘Top 50 Hair Metal albums of All Time’, is a stone cold classic and stands the test of time incredibly well. Hence this 30th anniversary reissue.
Whether or not you are tempted by this album set will likely depend on your opinion of the original album. What fans should know is that the remastering on this album is excellent. To this reviewer’s ears, the instrument separation is improved and the EQ is sharper at the top and bottom end but with a lovely mid-range kick that makes the guitars in particular sing.
Standout tracks remain as they were 30 years ago, with awesome opener ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)’ kicking things off in majestically over the top style, with the now infamous dual electric drill solo where Gilbert and Sheehan play their instruments in unison with electric drills to which guitar picks have been fixed.
Yes…I know! Utterly bonkers, utterly awesome! “Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ is still as wonderfully melodic as it ever was, with the guitar intro being one of those that many aspiring guitarists wanted to play but simply couldn’t master and with hooklines so catchy they should come with a serious health warning.
The guitar solo here is a picture of melodic restraint, proving that virtuosos don’t always need to show off throughout every song. The Jeff Paris song ‘CDFF Lucky This Time’ is the sort of AOR that makes even the best AOR songwriters weep with joy – the layers of chiming clean and dirty guitars and massed harmony vocals making this track one long series of hooklines from start to finish.
Road To Ruin’ starts off all acapella, proving that Eric Martin isn’t the only one in the band with a great set of pipes. It’s got another killer chorus amongst the huge riffs and those delicious harmonies elevate it even further.
Then of course, we get the ballads. Mr Big took a lot of stick for this back in the day, but you simply can’t argue with the quality of a song like ‘To Be With You’. Yes, it’s purely acoustic, yes it’s a soppy love song and yes it’s annoyingly catchy to the point where you want to scream, but it’s also quite brilliant and time hasn’t diminished its quality one iota.
In addition, there is the Andre Pessis co-write ‘Just Take My Heart’ which, despite being much more generic AOR in its structure, succeeds simply because of the quality of Eric Martin’s wonderful vocals and the performances of the rest of the band.
Then there are the more bluesy moments– ‘A Little Too Loose’ starts like some weird Delta Blues kind of thing before exploding into a mid-paced blues-influenced tour-de-force. ‘Voodoo Kiss’ is another which has a kick-ass acoustic blues intro before the big riffs and monster chorus kick in.
Then there are the bonus tracks. Original Japanese bonus track ‘Love Makes You Strong’ has a monumental riff proving yet again what a great player Gilbert is. It’s a cool track that sits well with the rest of the album. ‘Stop Messing Around’ is a previously unreleased track and is another that could easily have been on the original album, as it’s as good as most other songs on there.
Wild, Wild Women’ is another previously unreleased track. Here, it’s another very cool bonus track but truth to tell it’s better than a lot of hair metal bands’ better tracks! There is also an acoustic version of ‘Just Take My Heart’ which is a piano and vocal version.
It’s nice, but hardly essential, although it’s great to hear Martin’s exquisite vocal in a more stripped back setting. ‘Shadows’ is an uptempo rocker with driving bass and chugging guitars. The chorus to this one has some truly wonderful harmonies. It sounds like a decently produced demo, but is a great track. ‘Strike Like Lightning’ is more generic Hair Metal. One for completists only really.
It’s not a bad song but pales a little in comparison to what has gone before. There is also a short reggae version of ‘To Be With You’ which is frankly a bit silly and doesn’t really work, but sounds like it was a lot of fun to do, with Eric martin adlibbing vocal nonsense and everyone else not taking anything seriously. Utterly bonkers! You also get early versions of ‘Alive and Kicking’ and ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ which are interesting to compare to the ones that made the final recording.
Finally, for the musicians amongst you, there are ‘minus guitar’ versions of ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (Electric Drill Song) and ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ and ‘minus bass’ versions of ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (Electric Drill Song) and ‘Love Makes You Strong’, so those of you who wish to make yourselves sweat playing Gilbert’s or Sheehan’s impossibly intricate stuff have something to jam along to.
This set is released in MQA-CD 2CD set) (the remastered versions which are hi-resolution digital captures from the original analogue master tapes, thereby giving the very closest reproduction of the quality on those original tapes.) It is also released in SACD which is a 5.1 surround sound mix which apparently provides the ultimate listening experience.
This reviewer does not have access to a surround sound system so cannot comment on how good this is, but given the quality of the MQA-CD stereo remasters one can only imagine how good this alternative mix would be. It is also available as 180g vinyl and hi-resolution digital format, thereby giving potential purchasers plenty of options depending on preference.
‘Lean Into It’ is a classic album from a phenomenally talented group of musicians. It is and has always been so much more than just another Hair Metal album and this 30th anniversary edition proves that and then some.
For fans of the original, it’s very, very highly recommended indeed, as the remaster is superb and most of the bonus tracks are very well worth hearing. For those who missed it back in the day but who love highly melodic hard rock played and sung by some of the best singers and musicians on the planet, it should be an essential purchase – buy it immediately!
Preorder the 30th anniversary of LEAN INTO IT! Remastered using hi-res digital transfers from original analogue tapes for MQA-CD (2 CD), hybrid SACD & Hi-Res Digital. The Singles 7” Set (Limited to 2000) includes 4 coloured vinyl, guitar pick & poster. http://evo88.com/en/online-music-shopping#.YFlGSq8zaUk