Saturday, 26 July 2008

Chicago VII (Chicagothon Part 6)

Phew! we're on the home stretch now of 'CHICAGO WEEK' I must admit my enthusiasm for their brand of radio friendly jazz rock is starting to take a dive. However, let it not be said that Scratchy Buckles is a quitter, so let's get stuck into their next offering. We have another double album in a gatefold sleeve, with a carved wooden box effect on the cover design. The steam train from the previous album's inner sleeve appears, as well as some agricultural scenes and a big wheel. Are these views of the famous Chicago World Fair? Inside we have a photo of the guys in a rural setting, presumably taken on the studio ranch in Colorado. They're looking pretty chipper this time and so would you if you had knocked out a three number one albums in a row.

Chicago VII

Side 1

Prelude to Aire (2:47)
A jazzy instrumental opener, with it's tribal dance beat plus a floaty flute, this track puts me in mind of the voodoo scenes in the James Bond film Live And Let Die. Time to make a sharp exit with Solitaire.

Tery Kath's guitar wizardry has lots of room to breathe as he can really express himself on this chilled out workout. The influence of jazz really permeates the whole the this side, originally the whole focus of this album was going to express this side of Chicago's songwriting but Peter Cetera and James Wiliam Guercio (the producer/manager) were worried about the impact of going in this direction and so the album expanded to fit in some more commercial tracks.

Devil's Sweet
The third instrumental in a row showcasing Chicago's jazzier side. The whole of this side has Danny Seraphine on the writing credits, thus showing his interest in pushing the experimental face of the band.

Side 2

Italian From New York
If this was a bar, it would be in a basement down a dimly lit backstreet where all the hipsters, hucksters and hustlers congregate in the early hours.

Hanky Panky
The bar is filling up now, smoke hangs heavy in the air and the liqueur is taking effect.

Life Saver
The first piece of singing and Robert Lamm really gets the joint bouncing, with a catchy chorus and horns packing a punch.

Happy Man (3:16)
Those familiar treacly vocals from Peter Cetera kick in, to lift a pretty standard love song. Guercio was not content with just being the manager and producer, joins in on this one on his acoustic guitar.

Side 3

(I've Been) Searchin' So Long (4:28)
James Pankow throws us a curve ball on this ditty, as it begins as a soft ballad, then works up into a frenzied hard rocking climax, with Kath's guitar duelling with the horn section. A number nine hit in America and set to be a benchmark for that more familiar Chicago sound that gained heavy radio rotation.

Snappy title, snappy tune!

Song of the Evergreens
Lee Loughnane debuts on lead singing duties on this track, that could have done with some sprucing up, but it's a grower!

A forgettable effort, that perhaps should have been left in the studio, or as a 'b' side. This is the problem with releasing double albums, there's too much temptation to throw everything in but the kitchen sink. How many times have you sat listening to a bloated seventy minute collection that would make a more successful leaner single forty minute L.P

Side 4

Wishing You Were Here
Cetera roped in Al Jardine, Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys for some backing vocals, as you would expect with such quality, they add a touch of class to the mix. They scored a number 11 hit on the Billboard hot 100.

Call On Me
Some of the greatest songs are written on the back of a fag packet in fifteen minutes, however this one isn't one of them, it just sounds like it was knocked out at the end of a day of hard recording. The public still bought it though, making this rare Lee Loughname penned song, another top ten single.

Women Don't Want to Love Me
Lamm rolls out another Chicago trademarked funky standard.

Skinny Boy
A welcome guest appearance from The Pointer Sisters lifts the final track out of the ordinary, along with a chilled bass line perking up this section, which threatened to become a flaccid finale.

Conclusion: I think I finally get why Chicago's stock is so low, critically speaking, and thus why their albums still fill the bargain bins and charity crates, whilst their contemporaries like Foreigner, The Eagles and Steely Dan reputation have revived in recent years, with favourable critical reassessments. Firstly: they sold a bucketful of albums in the Seventies and Eighties, we have a collective amnesia about just how big a band these guys were, especially in America. Secondly: Chicago were two musical groups squeezed into one band. By this, I mean that they were on one hand, jazz rock pioneers, who pushed the boundaries with complex arrangements and free form melodies, this side was more prevalent in the earlier albums. The alter ego was the safer slicker A.O.R band who consistently delivered radio friendly hit after hit. In trying to satisfy both forces within the group , they ended up delivering to neither and thus never wholly gaining critical favour. They should have been two separate projects, each filling the respective briefs, without having to compromise the other's demands. This would have resulted in more honest albums, that retained more affection/favour in the pantheon of pop and rock music history.


Capt. Geoffrey Spaulding said...

Hey- this is some GREAT stuff.

I too was a Kath-era CHICAGO fan.

Your assessment of the band in your comments clearly and cleanly says it all: They sold out.

Capt. G. Spaulding

Scratchy Buckles said...

Thanks Capt. G. Spalding
Welcome aboard, we will be cruising at 37,000 feet and the journey should be most pleasant, as we sample plenty more early Seventies rock gems along the way, towards our vinyl destination: Mintville!