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Chicago - Chicago VI CD (album) cover

CHICAGO VI

Chicago

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

2.57 | 75 ratings

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PoolmanProgger
3 stars Chicago VI marks a departure for Chicago, as the jazz fusion and progressive stylings that the group had pursued previously were scraped for a sound with a more funky delivery, one that took its influence from Little Feat rather than Miles Davis. Also, Chicago VI was the first Chicago album heavy on ballads and light-rockers, a side effect of both James Pankow's increasingly generic horn arrangements and Robert Lamm experiencing writer's block, not to mention producer James William Guercio's smothering control of the band's sound and image. To make matters worse, the band members were creatively and emotionally drained after four-plus years of non-stop touring and recording. All of these factors contributed to the top-heavy Chicago VI, an album that, if not for several stand out tracks, would have been a lemon. Robert Lamm wrote half of the tracks on Chicago VI. "Critics' Choice" was Lamm's response to the band's negative critics, and a rather scathing lyric as well. Lamm criticizes the bloated egos and self-righteousness of said critics: "You parasite/You're dynamite/An oversight/Misunderstanding what you hear/You're quick to cheer/And volunteer/Absurdities, musicals, blasphemies". I can't help but think that a certain Robert Christgau was the target of Lamm's scorn, and it appears Christgau took it personally. Just take a look at his (very) brief review of Chicago VI: "Any horn band that's reduced to writing songs about critics and copping (unsuccessfully) from both Motown and America must be running out of--how do you say eet?--good charts." More on that copping unsucessfully from Motown later. Aside from the lyrics, "Critics' Choice" is a beautiful piano-driven tune, which adds to the depth of the lyrics. One of the better tunes on Chicago VI.

Lamm's next composition, "Darlin' Dear", is a very funky track, and reminds me a lot of Little Feat or the Allman Brothers Band. Chicago really ventures out of their comfort zone here, and they thoroughly nail it. A rag time piano and a slide guitar, virgin territory for Chicago, are nice touches, and blend in quite nicely with the horns. "Something in the City Changes People", Lamm's third composition on Chicago VI as well as the opener for Side Two, is probably Lamm's best tune on the album. A smooth piano with great vocal harmonies and congas, not to mention fantastic bass playing from Mr. Cetera, set up a dreamy flute solo accented by acoustic guitar, which gently segues into the next track, "Hollywood", another Lamm dittie. "Hollywood" is a rather weak lyric, supposedly critical of the phoniness of Hollywood celebrities, but Lamm doesn't do a very good job of expressing it, even jogging out a tired "Heard It Through the Grapevine" chorus. A very weak track aside from the horns and congas, which really shine on this otherwise lackluster performance. Lamm's final track, "Rediscovery", is quite funky, with a lyric about the narrator going out to a place in the mountains to rediscover himself. The rhythm section is strong on this one, but the funky guitar solo in the middle is a bit weak, and the horns really seem tired and going through the motions at this point.

Terry Kath and Peter Cetera each have one composition a piece on Chicago VI, and, as you probably would have guessed, they're nothing special. Kath's ballad, "Jenny" has good percussion with those congas making another appearance, and rather confusing lyrics. Is it a father talking to his daughter about her new child? Is the narrator a pimp? Is he talking to his baby mama regarding their bastard child? Who knows; the song is pretty forgettable, but not as forgettable as Cetera's piece, "In Terms of Two", which has to be, hands-down, the WORST track on Chicago VI. An uncredited harmonica opens the track, very unusual for Chicago, and what follows is a country-rock tune that falls flat on its face. Whereas the slide guitar worked on "Darlin' Dear", it fails miserably on this track. An obvious attempt at exploiting the country rock boom of the early 70s. There is nothing memorable at all about this track, and I wish that I had never heard it.

The three best tracks on Chicago VI are James Pankow's compositions. "Just You N Me" was a smash hit, climbing to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Pankow wrote the song about his feelings for his future wife, and the emotion really comes through in this one. Cetera has a great vocal delivery, and Walter Parazaider performs a soprano saxophone solo to accompany Terry Kath's wah-wah guitar. Initially, it may sound like a sappy radio-friendly ballad, but it really fills out nicely. The next Pankow piece is "What's This World Comin' To?", the longest track on the album, clocking in at nearly five minutes, as well as the Side One closer. The best lyric on the entire album, the lyrics are politically charged - Pankow borrowing a page from Lamm - with an emphasis on being benevolent toward one another. The lyrics are especially critical of those rich and in power. The terrific rhythm section and horns really flesh out this standout track, as well as a top-notch organ.

Pankow's last composition on Chicago VI, a song which he co-wrote with Peter Cetera, is the seminal album closer "Feelin' Stronger Every Day", the hands-down best song on Chicago VI and one of the group's most enduring tracks. A fan favorite down to the modern day, "Feelin' Stronger" pretty much saves Side Two from being a laughing stock and is the only reason you should still be listening to this album all the way through. Terry Kath uses the wah-wah guitar to perfection on this track, steadily upping the tempo of the track until it bursts out of its shackles about halfway through. There is so much emotion and energy in this song that its premature ending at 4:15 is cruel. "Feelin' Stronger" is one of Chicago's best songs, and it is sure to leave a strong impression on the listener.

Chicago VI was Chicago's sixth album in four years, their fifth studio effort, and all that wear and tear from constant touring and promotion of their albums was starting to wear off. Chicago VI, as a result, sounds a bit tired and lackadaisical. After starting out strong, the album runs out of steam on Side Two, virtually lulling the listener to sleep until the energetic "Feelin' Stronger" revives them again. That said, Chicago VI definitely has high peaks, but it also has very deep valleys. A very uneven record, but it still has enough highlights on it to be worthy of any prog fan's collection.

PoolmanProgger | 3/5 |

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