Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Chicago - XXX (2006)

Chicago has taken some large critical hits over the years as their artistic goals became secondary to making music that would sell a lot of records. In the 80s they lived and died with power ballads, the horns almost became intruders to the band’s record company, and their best composer, Robert Lamm, was told he would never sing lead again on a Chicago single. (However he does sing lead on "Feel," the band’s first single from this new album.) The band eventually rebelled, which resulted in their still unreleased "let’s break the mold" album, Stone Of Sisyphus, recorded in 1993. Warner Brothers hated SOS so Chicago and the record company parted ways. Sadly, with Chicago XXX, the band seems to have returned to the music they were rebelling against with Jason Scheff, their bass playing tenor, leading the way.

I never thought I would miss Peter Cetera. While he possesses a very elastic tenor voice, and he played some very cool bass for Chicago in his early years, I never thought much of the wimpy ballads he wrote later on with the band. To me Cetera became the poster boy of Chicago’s artistic demise. Unfortunately, Scheff, the man who replaced Cetera in the mid-80s, has proven himself to be Cetera "Lite."

XXX, the band’s first album of all original material since 1991, is front-loaded with mostly Scheff power ballads, all of them sung in his trademark high pitched wail that becomes almost excruciating in large doses. Of course, Rascal Flatts producer, Jay DeMarcus, who did the honors here, can’t get enough of Scheff so he double and triple tracks his voice so the bassist's screaming vocals are intensified. The wimpiness of Scheff’s compositions doesn’t help matters either. Yes, the horns are much more upfront than they have been since the 70s but the interminable screeching and the wall of sound arrangements render them superfluous.

By the time my car CD player beamed its laser on the good stuff beginning with track 7 I was ready to take the disc out so I could finish my drive home without incident. Then suddenly, two upbeat Robert Lamm songs and Bill Champlin’s funkiness save the day as trombonist Jim Pankow’s horn arrangements return to the forefront where they belong. The second half of this CD is enjoyable mainstream rock. Give a listen to Lamm’s "90 Degrees and Freezing" and "Come To Me Do" and Champlin’s "Already Gone" and "Better."

Champlin is also responsible for the wretched ballad "Why Can’t We," a duet with country singer Shelly Fairchild, that is part of the awful first half of this disc. He is forgiven because everyone writes a stinker once in awhile.

Unfortunately, Chicago’s stated goal on this album was to get their music back on the radio, rather than make music they loved, so if XXX is a hit don’t expect the now very underutilized Lamm to return from the wasteland anytime soon.

1 comment:

  1. Based on what you've said about Better and Already Gone I think you'd really like the Sons of Champlin's Hip Li'l Dreams album. Honestly those 2 songs sound like could have come from the Sons of Champlin instead of Chicago. The only real difference being the horn arrangements. Tom Saviano and Doc Kupka have a different style than Jimmy and the boys when it comes to arranging horns. But the vocal arrangements and the production just SCREAMS Sons of Champlin.

    Great review, Charlie! :-)

    I posted my review over on The Review Revue yesterday.

    Oh and I wanted to recommend another blog to you. I stumbled upon this guys blog in my web travels and he also focuses heavily on music reviews and music related postings. So I recommend Ben's Daily Review.

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