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Chicago - Chicago VII CD (album) cover

CHICAGO VII

Chicago

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.90 | 54 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars almost four stars, but just missing it.

With the catastrophic (for Chicago anyway) 6th album behind them, the group rebounded with a double album (just like in them good ol'days) and a wonderful carved-in-leather gatefold artwork, things were looking upwards - artistically-speaking, because financially they were never better sales-wise. The album starts on the instrumental mode for about 2/3 of the first disc and in the process presents Chicago's finest moment, then suddenly slumps and almost returns to the catastrophic VI album, but the group sprinkled some good tracks here and there and they finish strong on the fourth side of this double Lp.

I'm not sure you'll find a more perfect vinyl side on the first three Chicago album than you'll have on the opening side of VII, and it might come as a surprise, but it's mostly drummer Danny Seraphine's doing (with Parazaider's help), both who are not usual songwriters in the band. Out of nowhere rise wild tropical percussions, soon accompanied by a haunting flute complete with Mellotrons and cello (yesireeeebob) and the Prelude leads to the Aire track a delightful Latino-influenced (obviously, they heard Santana), but the track is a fine instrumental that allows the group to show their chops, including a fine Kath guitar solo over a Lamm electric piano in the second half. Great stuff accounting for near 10 mins, including the prelude, and showing Chicago could indeed go JR/F. The following10-mins Devil's Sweet starts on Coltrane (!) grounds with an eerie sax line, before slowly building an ever-changing instrumental track that carries the listener through a series of ambiances and climaxes that make this track just as impressive as Aire. Simply the best flipside of Chicago, it's just too bad the second half of Sweet is almost marred by a (short) drum solo before returning to the Trane sax line at the start of the track.

The flipside starts quite well too, with Italian From NY, an electronic noise that leads the group in a Soft Machine-type of groove with Kath's guitar pulling another interesting solo. The short Hanky Panky transforms the previous groove in a more traditional Chicago-type track. Get this: so far, this album has been all instrumental and while HP is segueing into the Beatle-esque Life Saver, the vocals start in the second part of that track. And just when you thought Cetera would screw things up, he pulls a slow jazzy tune Happy Man? well the track is easily the worst from the first disc, but it is one of the man's better writings, with Lamm's electric piano doing much over bongos and congas. I'd have much preferred this song on the second disc along with Pankow's Searching So Long, actually much worse tune in terms of cheesiness with string arrangements, but more uplifting.

The second disc is certainly not quite as excellent than its twin and it starts with Mongonucleosis, a Latino-fuelled instrumental light jazz-rock tune that will please everyone, including demanding progheads. While Kath's Evergreens proves to be his best song since their third album (good guitar solo, but his second song Byblos, an acoustic ditty is not of the same calibre, even if it evolves electric, it also overstays its welcome. Cetera's second song WYWH > nothing to do with Floyd, though) is definitely the stinker (and sinker) of the album, a soppy ballad, as atrocious as was the up-coming If You Leave Me Now (Yesssir, that bad!!)

Call On Me is a normal Chicago-track that would sit fine on V or even on disc1 of the present, but the final flipside's best moment is Lamm Women Don't Want To Love Me, a funky brassy track that rivals EW&F or K&tG's best moments, especially when Kath's guitar solo happens. The closing Skinny Boy is also very funky, this time closer to James Brown or Sly Stone. A fairly strong fourth side.

Definitely the band's best effort in their second chapter (mid-70's) and while some would advise to go one further, I'll stop at this one, one that starts out incredibly well, then slowly fades , but there is now and then a stellar track to lighten up a lengthy double album that would've made a dynamite single disc affair if condensed properly. Definitely worth an investigation, even maybe even the investment.

Sean Trane | 3/5 |

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