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Chicago - Chicago VII CD (album) cover

CHICAGO VII

Chicago

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.90 | 54 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Good vibrations

Having indulged themselves for the first (but not last!) time in recording an overtly pop oriented album with Chicago VI, Chicago pulled back from the abyss and recorded this altogether more satisfying collection.

The early jazz roots of their works were once again called upon as the foundations of this their fourth and last double LP studio set. A number of the tracks here had been developed over the previous year or so on the road, although it has to be said that the lengthy improvisations from which they emanate were not always regarded by the audience as the high point of the set. What resulted was actually a neat split between the two LPs, with one leaning heavily towards the jazz side, and the other more towards the pop rock.

The solidly stable line up once again visited the recording studios of their then manager in deepest Colorado, USA to work on the album, the band members getting it together in the country both musically and in extra-curricular activities.

The first of the 2 LPs, the jazz orientated one, consists of seven tracks, five of which are entirely instrumental. The trademark horns are first heard on the Pankow/ Parazaider/ Seraphine composed 'Aire', where they follow a defined melody reminiscent of the suites on the band's earliest albums. Terry Kath adds looser guitar to the piece, and Walter Parazaider provides flute. The longest track is the 10 minute 'Devil's sweet', also composed by Parazaider and Seraphine. The track features some superfluous percussion before the brass section imposes itself to introduce the band's ARP synthesiser to an unsuspecting audience. The track is perhaps flawed in terms of the overall indulgence, but it does demonstrate an admirable diversity in Chicago's thinking.

While the first three tracks, which make up side one of the first LP, keep things reasonably tight, side two sees the jazz side of the band's make up initially being pushed to the fore. Robert Lamm writes the first two tracks here, the first of which 'Italian from New York' is a tribute to Laudir de Oliveira, a guest percussionist on the album (although he was actually from Cuba!). The brief 'Hanky Panky', features the trombone playing of James Pankow. Lamm also wrote 'Life saver', the first track on the album to feature vocals (by Lamm). As soon as the vocals come in, the track immediately tightens up then closes with a repetitive chorus. Peter Cetera's first compositional credit 'Happy man' closes side 2. This inoffensive pop ditty was later covered by the pop act Dawn.

James Pankow's "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long" continues the soft ballad style, Peter Cetera providing the slushy vocal over some equally slushy orchestration. Pankow's final track for the album, the instrumental "Mongonucleosis" offers a wonderful demonstration of his brass arrangement skills, and as such is a highlight of the album.

Lee Loughnane takes on lead vocal duties for the first time ever on Kath's 'Song of the evergreens', a song which only reveals itself midway through, when the pace is lifted and a rather enjoyable romp develops. The oddly named 'Byblos' takes its name from a jazz club in Tokyo, Japan where the band has a weeks residency. The track continues the relaxed pop balladry with soft jazzy overtones. A rehearsal version of the track is included as a bonus on the CD version of the album.

Peter Cetera's 'Wishing you were here' has some nice soundscapes, but the multi- tracking of his vocals is a mistake, the contrasts with Terry Kath's understated delivery being too jarring. The track features the Beach Boys on backing vocals, mainly because Chicago's manager James Guercio had recently become the Beach Boys manager and bassist.

If Lee Loughnane first attempt a lead vocal had been largely satisfactory, his first foray into the songwriting arena was commercially impressive. 'Call on me', sung by Cetera delivered another big hit for the band, in their homeland at least. The song is light, but has a good brass arrangement and a pleasing vitality. 'Women Don't Want to Love Me" comes closer to the disappointing content of 'Chicago VI', with funky guitar and brass being the order of the day. The album closes with 'Skinny boy', a song originally intended by Robert Lamm for his first solo album. The track features backing vocals by The Pointer Sisters, but is largely forgettable.

In all, a more satisfactory album than its predecessor, which sees the band getting back to what they do best. The commercial orientation of the second LP ensured commercial success, while the more adventurous content of disc 1 showed that the band still wished to be taken seriously beyond the pop charts. The album lacks a killer track as such, but overall it exudes enough quality to make it worthwhile.

Easy Livin | 3/5 |

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