I only really know the American band Mr. Big for one achievement – that being their 1992 chart-topping single “To Be With You”, which would prove to be one of the final hurrahs of the hair metal era. A supergroup formed from members of various bands assembled with help from Shrapnel Records, their second album Lean Into It proved to be a commercial breakthrough for the group. It’s especially remarkable that their two most popular singles at the time, “To Be With You” and “Just Take My Heart” (which reached #16), were distinctly hair metal ballads deep in an era where hair metal was out and grunge was in. For what it’s worth, “To Be With You” wasn’t anything special in its day, and it certainly isn’t much now. Its flimsy premise and ham-fisted lyrics are held together only by a powerful, singalong chorus with a melody line that, admittedly, isn’t too bad. It certainly is a relic of its time – though perhaps maybe a few years too late.
“To Be With You” is Mr. Big’s sole achievement in the world of popular music, and after a few quick listens to some of their other material, it’s clear to see why. Where sparse, shouty ballads would’ve sounded welcoming and refreshing in the 80s, their own material just sounds like every tired power ballad cliché in the book. It’s not totally awful – just painfully boring. Nonetheless, they achieved a string of hits in their time, one of which being a cover of one of Cat Stevens’ most revered songs, “Wild World”. I’ve never been a huge fan of the loose banality of the original, but at least Stevens’s unique vocal delivery brings something at least a little worthwhile to the table.
Much like “To Be With You” is only listenable for that anthemic chorus, “Wild World” is also only held up by the delicate melodies in the verses and chorus, courtesy of Stevens himself. By lieu of this being a cover song of a fairly well-known song, the familiarity factor gives this song an added push for finding an audience, since many might find themselves singing along with only the first listen. Nonetheless, as far as cover songs are concerned, this is one of the dull ones. Cover songs are generally not at all worth recording if the performer doesn’t add some interesting stylistic effects that would have listeners opting for this one over the original, even if only occasionally. Mr. Big’s version of “Wild World”, however, is practically identical to the original, making it practically useful for nothing but to fill up space on an album. There’s nothing in this that makes me want to listen to any more Mr. Big – and certainly nothing that would help me to remember this cover’s existence in the first place.
As I mentioned at the start, I’m not particularly fond of the condescension of the lyrics to “Wild World”, but at least the delicate delivery and decent guitar backdrop prevents me from immediately changing the dial right away. Here, the lyrics remain just as eye-rollingly trite, but with even duller and drabber production. The lead singer here is just so uninteresting, and the rest of the band are simply phoning in through the entirety of the record. At least there’s some semblance of energy present in “To Be With You” – here, it’s completely zapped out. I guess if you have any hankering to give a listen to “Wild World” (but really, why would you?), you should always opt for the Cat Stevens original to play it safe.