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Chicago - Twenty 1 CD (album) cover

TWENTY 1

Chicago

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

1.43 | 19 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
1 stars Some years back funnyman Chris Rock had this bit about his decision to settle down and get married. Reason #1 was that he didn't want to become "the old guy at the club." You know, the squirrelly dude in his mid-to-late 40s who shows up at the local nightspot three nights a week wearing tight-fitting shirts bulging out over leather pants and dropping corny pick up lines from his glory days on girls half his age. The only person in the room that doesn't realize how pathetic he is, in other words. As the 90s began with a new sound and attitude fueled by the up-and-coming grunge movement the geezers that populated the once-innovative group Chicago had unfortunately morphed into the musical equivalent of the sad, pitiful clown that Chris Rock so humorously described in his monologue. They simply were blind to the fact that they either needed to progress/evolve or cease recording new material altogether. The unequivocal failure that this album proved to be forced them to accept the latter option.

Diane Warren was still the can't-do-no-wrong darling of the contemporary record charts so the band, having found success with a few of her memorable tunes in the previous decade, instinctively chose to open with yet another of her radio-friendly songs. "Explain it to my Heart" starts with a pompous Liberace-meets-Tchaikovsky piano flourish and an ironic line in which bassist Jason Scheff sings "I understand there's no future for us here" (just the first of many double-entendre lyrics to be highlighted along the way). The tune is actually a decent power ballad befitting the era it was birthed in but the group chose to perform it in a key that requires both Jason and co-vocalist Bill Champlin to painfully strain the upper limits of their yodeling registers and their anguished screaming effectively ruins any enjoyment that could have possibly been reaped. Since nearly every solo on LPs #18 & #19 was provided by session guitarists they finally enlisted a full-time axe-wielder by the name of Dawayne Bailey for this go-round but didn't bother to hire a replacement for the conspicuously-missing drummer Daniel Seraphine who'd been behind the kit from the band's inception. Go figure. Did they have a member limit? Maybe it was a case of Danny boy being smart enough to opt out of having his name associated with this turkey. Whatever the cause, a couple of studio rats with the monikers of John Keane and Tris Imboden manned the tubs and/or programmed the Roland for this one. There is no distinction.

Scheff's "If it were You" is next and it's nothing more than blah formula urban chic rock hook, line and stinker. One of the lyrics goes "another waste of time is all that's left now" and I couldn't agree more. It goes without saying that this CD is about as prog as "The Best of Air Supply" and should be avoided at all costs unless you want to slog through muck like "You Come to my Senses," a love ballad so gooey that it leaks sap on the carpet and has all the consistency of store-brand toilet tissue. Don't play this for your fair lady on Valentine's Day unless your burning desire is to watch her sleep. I'm a long-time fan of Bill Champlin but fluff like "Somebody, Somewhere" represents some of his worst writing ever. The tune has no character and is as dull as a high school algebra teacher. "It was nothing at all," he warbles and I believe him without reservation. Jason's "What Does it Take" follows and it's indistinguishable from 99.9% of the filler crap they deposited on their LPs throughout the 80s. "I never did let go of what we were" he sings and I think he has inadvertently identified the underlying problem with this whole endeavor. Keyboardist Robert Lamm contributes the ghastly "One From the Heart" at this juncture and it's repulsively patronizing as well as being about as appetizing as a wad of gum pried from beneath a seat at the Cineplex. It's as if in desperation he exhumed the body of "Saturday in the Park" and put some makeup on the corpse in order to pass it off as new while praying no one notices the overwhelming stench of rotten flesh. It's downright ghoulish.

At this point in my note-taking for this review I wrote in the margin that it's an exercise in patience and endurance to sit through this album in its entirety. I'm no martyr but let's just say that I did it so you won't have to and leave it at that. The only song that earns a passing grade is the second one by Ms. Warren, "Chasin' the Wind," and it benefits in no small part from once upon a time being the right tune at the right moment for me. Allow me to expand. In '91 I was still getting over my ugly divorce and had fallen in lust with a sexy woman who was a fun gal to be around but was sorely bereft of moral currency. The final straw came one morning when, while still in her bed with me, she brazenly took a call from one of her other suitors. I calmly dressed, placed her door key on her dresser, solemnly bid her adieu and never looked back. As I drove away from her house this song came on the radio with Bill Champlin's expressive, emotional delivery of words like "opened up my heart/let you inside/if love was what you were lookin' for/well, I guess it wasn't mine" and "no use making you care about me/no way that I'm gonna win" and the timing couldn't have been more perfect. It felt like destiny. Therefore I'll always have a soft spot for this commercial ditty. Can't help it.

Trombonist James Pankow and Jason Scheff teamed up to write "God Save the Queen" but they might have done better to try to save their reputations, instead. To call it lame is to give it too much credit but at least the almost-imaginative horn arrangement is spunky. Their musical plea for mankind to be more ecologically conscious actually pollutes the atmosphere worse than rush-hour traffic in Dallas. Jason got out the compositional cookie- cutter for his horrid "Man to Woman" track, yet another vile attempt on his part to mimic his crooning, swoon-inducing predecessor, Pete Cetera. The words sound like they were copied verbatim from a Hallmark "I wuv you this much" card and I had to suppress the gag reflex to get to the end of it. Truly awful schlock. Lamm's "Only Time Can Heal the Wounded" takes the art of mindless tedium to a new apex. He must've penned it on a bathroom break as the result of a lost poker hand. It's so crappy that it wouldn't even qualify for elevator muzak. As I stated earlier, Champlin is capable of great things but he can't be proud of the turd that is "Who Do You Love." The band tries to "rawk" it out but the tune is so trite and unsubstantial that it defies description. Inexcusable is the best I can come up with. Bill's "Holding On" ends the torture and the opening lines are more than appropriate. "Walkin' through time/reachin' for yesterday/'cause we're frightened of tomorrow," he sings. I couldn't have said it better myself. Later on in this piece of lifeless flotsam he adds "something has gone away." Do tell. Please make them stop! I'm about to spew chunks.

After this fiasco Chicago resigned themselves to going out on a yearly summer tour in which they trotted out their vast catalogue of hit singles for their adoring, aging fans. Nothing wrong with that. It's gotta be easier than trying to stay relevant and it's highly profitable, to boot. At least the dismal sales for "Chicago 21" made them put a halt to them personifying the "old guys at the club." Since their creative well had obviously dried up it made no sense to try to draw water from it any more. It would be a decade and a half before they'd put out a CD of new stuff but I have no interest in finding out what's on it. Given my druthers, I'd rather spend my cash on a ticket to hear them play "Make Me Smile" on a hot August evening at the local amphitheatre with my lovely wife at my side and a cold brewski in my hand. Creatively I think Chicago should've called it quits while they were ahead back in the 70s. 1 star. And that's being generous.

Chicapah | 1/5 |

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