Thursday, February 27, 2014

Buried Treasure: Chicago - Chicago 16 (1982)

Longtime readers of this blog have probably noticed how much space has been devoted to the original lineup of the rock band Chicago and how little respect (with very few exceptions) there is for the post-Terry Kath editions of the large, famous ensemble.

Chicago 16, the group's first album released by Full Moon/Epic after Columbia Records fired them, is not only their comeback album it's one of the exceptions. It's also the first of three records with new producer David Foster, and singer, keyboardist, guitarist, Bill Champlin who joined them the year before it was released.

16 is the album where Chicago began to use outside musicians extensively (the members of Toto were major contributors). In addition to the loss of Kath Chicago's heart and soul, Robert Lamm, was largely absent for health and personal reasons. Peter Cetera, who had become the group's most visible member by this time, sang lead on most of the songs but he gave up his bass playing duties to the studio hands. The original horn section of James Pankow, Walt Parazaider, and Lee Loughnane were still onboard as was drummer extraordinaire, Danny Seraphine.

Despite a few very good contributions that elevated some ordinary songs into a higher realm the horn section was often a footnote or completely absent from several tracks as Foster modernized the band's sound with layers upon layers of synthesizers and keyboards.

16 was the first time Chicago used outside songwriters in addition to the band members and most of the hard rock, blues–rock, and R&B influences were mined from their arrangements. The rock songs often wore too much of the era's glossy sheen but what would really ruin the band's reputation in the coming years was the inclusion of hornless power ballads that were quickly becoming their bread and butter commercially.

Even with all of the criticisms above 16 is Chicago's best long player of the 80s and it returned them to the top of the charts after a long absence. Pankow's crisp horn charts possess a lot of passion. Cetera's tenor voice, as always, is superb. "What You're Missing," given to the group by Toto's Joseph Williams, and "Waiting For You To Decide" are fine examples of both. "Chains" rocks even though the brief brass chorus may actually be synths and Champlin's vocal on Pankow's "Follow Me" is a typically fine example of the new singer's earthiness.

Side one ended with the Windy City boys' second American #1 hit, "Hard To Say I'm Sorry," a bombastic ballad, sans horns, with a full string section. It's saved by a good melody and another top shelf Cetera vocal. The LP version of the single redeems itself because the hard rocking "Get Away" was tacked on to the end of the song. It's Lamm's sole contribution to the album and although he shares composing credits with Cetera and Foster the song has his fingerprints all over it. It's the most original piece on the disc and Pankow's horn arrangement is terrific.

The ten song set concludes with two tracks that drag down the proceedings. "Rescue You" is not one of Cetera's better moments and the second single, "Love Me Tomorrow," that closes the LP is an over-produced, melodramatic catastrophe featuring way more strings than necessary. It makes "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" seem subtle by comparison.

While not a masterpiece, I like to take this platter out for a spin on the old turntable once in awhile because when Chicago broke away from their new formula, which they were allowed to do on occasion here, the results are quite enjoyable. The problem is that Foster didn't set them free often enough.

The rest of 16 is way better than the singles would indicate and it's a lot better than Chicago's stiffer, more robotic, followup, Chicago 17, a blockbuster album that became their biggest commercial success ever.

If you don't already own a copy you may want to seek out the vinyl record. When Rhino released the album on CD they used the edited, single version of "What You're Missing" and an abbreviated take of "Love Me Tomorrow" instead of the tracks issued on the original twelve inch back in '82.

1 comment:

  1. Apparently there's a Chicago documentary being put together, that I know about because fan Jimmy Pardo, of NEVER NOT FUNNY and the CONAN show, was interviewed for it...wonder why Rhino went for a lesser package...