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Chicago - Chicago V CD (album) cover

CHICAGO V

Chicago

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.24 | 57 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars In all fairness, regardless of what you might think of them, you gotta hand it to these blue collar guys regarding their stamina and intestinal fortitude in the early going. In the span of three short years they'd offered up to the fickle public a daunting dozen (that's TWELVE for the metric-minded) sides of shiny black vinyl containing top-quality studio material as well as an elaborate box set of live performances, to boot. Compare that level of output to today's stingy standards when you're lucky if your favorite prog act releases a lone CD of new music every other year! I envision that when Chicago's megalomaniac producer James Guercio gathered the ragged pack together to plan out LP #5 he got a lot of "I got nothin'" looks from all but golden boy Robert Lamm who, like the nerdy kid at school you loathed and perhaps bullied, announced proudly that he'd been doing his homework diligently and had a slew of tunes in his Superman spiral notebook ready to take into the rehearsal hall. However, in this case I suspect that the rest of the road-weary warriors in the troupe were too burned out to be resentful that little Bobby'd been spending his offstage time writing songs while they freely indulged in the wild & crazy rock & roll lifestyle in city after city. They'd never gone wrong following his lead before and, besides, his proclivity for composition took the pressure off the others, Terry Kath and James Pankow in particular, to deliver the goods.

They raise the curtain on this album (I would've called it "Chive" for grins) with the slithering, reptilian groove of "A Hit by Varese," a great example of why this group is rightly considered a pioneering force in progressive fusion. They expertly mix a heavy rock churning sensation into a jazzy motif and the spirited improvisational solos rising from each of their talented horn players during the extended middle section are exceptional. The way they slowly but steadily build to a manic state of aural affairs is invigorating and, while not all that complicated, it lacks nothing in the intensity department. The sarcastic lyrics should appeal to every progger, too. Lamm cries out to be spared the torture of being bombarded ever and anon with tired "oldies" bled to death over the radio waves. "Can you play free or in three or agree to attempt something new?/the people need you, a seed that will lead to a hit by Varese," he pleads with tongue planted firmly in cheek. (For the uninformed, Varese was a non-conformist, avant garde composer whose weird stuff influenced the likes of Zappa and other eclectic progmen of note.) The mellow "All Is Well" follows right on its heels and it's a smooth, flowing romantic tune that no doubt pleased the suits at Columbia at the listening session, eliciting sighs of relief after hearing the rebellious opener and frantically putting their vacations on hold. Still, it alternates coyly between 6/4 and 4/4 time signatures and the superbly-scored, horn ensemble-led bridge segment is admirable.

Pankow's only contribution is next, the uneven "Now That You've Gone." It begins with a rolling drum pattern from Danny Seraphine that evolves into an energetic waltz where the horns set the pace tactfully in that they don't overwhelm the track. The song structure is too fragmented to be cohesive and/or memorable but Walter Parazaider's unrestrained sax ride is a delight. The two-parted "Dialogue" is the best thing about this record. It's a very unique number that encompasses everything that made this band stand out from the herd. That is to say they didn't neglect their dedication to their craft while continuing to broadcast their strong and sometimes controversial political beliefs. Here Robert allows us to eavesdrop on a theoretical conversation being carried on between a child of the 60s (Kath) and one of the early 70s (Cetera) through which Lamm expresses what he considers a dearth of moral conviction in the up and coming generation. Terry: "When it's time to function as a feeling human being, will your bachelor of arts help you get by?" Peter: "I hope to study further, a few more years or so. I also hope to keep a steady high." It's a riveting exchange about priorities that still rings true today (I saw them in concert recently and they played it to an enthusiastic response). Everyone in the group donates their time equally to make this song work on multiple levels and the "gospelized" finale is an unexpected treat.

"While the City Sleeps" sports an engaging introduction and then swings seamlessly between a bluesy 4/4 beat and a peppy 7/8 format kicking beneath the paranoid ensemble vocals that warn us "men are scheming new ways to kill us and tell us dirty lies." (Gee, Bob, ya think?) It's nothing all that special but Kath does deliver a powerful guitar lead backed by an ominous wall of ascending horns. Next is their eternal (some might say infernal) summertime pop hit, "Saturday in the Park," that, after all these decades of being cruelly overplayed ad nauseum, ironically embodies the complaint that Robert issued on the opening cut. He created the very thing he detested so vehemently! Despite being woefully dated in more ways than one ("Can you dig it?") I can't discount or demean the tune's spiffy horn arrangement or the hopeful stop-and-smell-the-roses message of "listen, children/all is not lost/all is not lost" that the Nixon-shrouded world so needed to hear in '72.

"State of the Union" is a funky rocker that's fairly straight ahead in its approach and I must confess that something obvious occurred to me at this juncture: Mr. Cetera was a damned decent bassist before he went all Englebert Humperdink on us and morphed into a schmaltzy lounge crooner. If you lend an ear to what he's doing so consistently you'll agree. He shines brightly throughout this whole album and I just wanted to bring that to your attention. (No need to thank me, just mail a generous check to the "Let's build a rest home for senile proggers" fund.) Lyrically Lamm appears to be really ticked off and it presents quite a contrast to the "free and easy" attitude he copped in the previous song. The same dude who just moments ago praised a "man selling ice cream" is now willing to bust a cap in the benevolent street vendor's skull if it'll help him "tear the system down, down to the ground." Odd. Lee Loughnane's dizzy trumpet solo is worth mentioning, by the way. "Goodbye" is another highlight of the proceedings. Its jazzy ambience and feel reminiscent of Miles Davis' "Maiden Voyage," it shows the band wasn't about to cut any corners when it came to their art and, even when exhausted, they were determined to keep their integrity intact. This "I hate L.A." tune has many interesting turns and detours to enjoy along the way. Kath brings up the rear with his simple "Alma Mater." It's a gospel-choir- gathered-'round-the-upright-piano kind of ditty that works mainly due to Terry's soulful voice and the refreshing, bare bones approach they wisely chose to employ. They didn't add what it didn't need.

Chicago V was their first single-disc album and also their first to reach #1 on the US charts where it stayed for over two months. They recorded this sucker in just over a week and that's an indication of how meticulous their preparation was in rehearsal because there's nothing haphazard about it. Very tight, very clean and likely well below budget. Despite what must've been constant pressure to crank out AM hits like cheap soap bubbles, the boys in the band remained true to their renegade roots and stubbornly flew their freak flag high for the most part. I realize that he didn't figure heavily in the creation of this particular disc but as long as Terry Kath was alive he wasn't going to let them knuckle under and turn into the commercial pop machine they would eventually become after his tragic demise. He was their prog policeman of sorts and God bless him for that. This ain't a bad one to own because at this point in their career they were still the vanguard of horn bands, pushing the envelope and entertaining their loyal fans with challenging material. 3.4 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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