This week, I have managed to track down another Chicago album, and so I serve it up for you in a post-dinner party style, like an After (Chicago) Eight mint. We are now into 1976 and the guys have eased off the throttle, indicating that they're moving into the middle of the road, aiming to do a steady 55 m.p.h, no matter who's honking up their rear bumper. It's also notable for missing the top slot in America, reaching number three, thus breaking Chicago's run of four number albums in a row.
The single album cover has a tasty chocolate bar theme to it, no expense has been spared in the packaging, with a lyric insert and a chocolate coloured inner sleeve, all contained within a lush gatefold design. The inside of said gatefold is taken up with a photo the the guys being chased by a Boss Hogg type of policeman; for crimes against music, no doubt! book'em officer!!
Once or Twice (3:02)
It's going to take more plays than that for me to remember this track, an average bar room boogie.
You Are on My Mind (3:25)
James Pankow sings along to this reasonable little shimmy, that hints of Santana.
Skin Tight (3:21)
It's aiming for funky, however it's more flunky.
If You Leave Me Now (3:59)
You'll recognise this one straight away, Peter Cetera's effort stands out in terms of musical style and execution, as a saccharine power ballad, that would become their signature trade mark. It wasn't originally going to be on the album until the insistence of the manager James William Guercio, who must have had dollar signs cher-chinging away, as this became a number one smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic. It's like marmite, you'll either love it or hate it..
Together Again (3:55)
Lee Loughnane writes and sings on what can only be described as a pleasant album filler. In these i-pod picky days of track skipping, as a mp3, it would never be listened to again.
Another Rainy Day in New York City (3:05)
A clunky steel band Calypso conjoined onto an A.O.R sound. If that's sounds horrible in the description, that's because it is.. a minor hit in the States.
Mama Mama (3:33)
Cetera's just going through the motions here, the song barely registers in my ear lobes.
Robert Lamm recalls all the good times the band has had. This roll of nostalgia must have reminded them of when they used to let loose in the studio, making this the perkiest track so far.
Gently I'll Wake You (3:35)
Indeed, you'll need to because my eyelids are drooping here.
You Get It Up (3:36)
That 'wah wah' voice box effect is back on this party track.
Hope for Love (3:08)
Terry Kath wrote and sung this touching lament, to at least see out album number X in style, reminding us of what Chicago were capable of.
Conclusion: My 'CHICAGOTHON' has finished on a bit of a damp squib. The X album sounds like the result of a worn out band, who had lost direction. I don't like putting the boot in critically, but you can't help feel somewhat aggrieved that such a talented bunch of songwriters and musicians felt they could churn out a collection of 'treading water' songs. The slide towards Cetera's vision of the band was enforced by the overwhelming success of 'If You Leave Me Now' Two years later, this metamorphosis would be completed by two events, they fell out and split with long-time manager/producer James William Guercio, then tragically, core band member Terry Kath died, through a self inflicted gunshot wound, whilst cleaning his gun. The rest of the group rallied around on carried on to achieve huge commercial success, but the spirit of Chicago had irrevocably changed.
What have I learnt from this little challenge, apart from that it's quite hard to keep writing about a Seventies band who released prodigious amounts of similar sounding albums. Well, on a simplistic level, that 'The Chicago Transit Authority' is a must have record for any fan of that period of post sixties rock, where artists really pushed the music towards previously unexplored territories. The next half a dozen Chicago albums are worth a listen, if and when you spot them nestling in the vinyl crates. However, the major thing I've learnt, is not to prejudge whether or not to jump into a band's output purely on (sometimes unfair) reputation, but also that a bad rep is often justified. So, get your sticky mitts diving into those vinyl crates, but don't be surprised if you occasionally get fingers burnt!