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Chicago - Chicago VIII CD (album) cover

CHICAGO VIII

Chicago

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

2.72 | 34 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Brassed off?

Having released the double LP "Chicago VII" in March 1974, the band wasted no time in returning to the studio to record their next album. They were still touring relentlessly, but created a gap in their schedule to once again spend time at producer James William Guercio's Caribou Ranch studios in Colorado during the summer of 1974. The success of the previous album and of its its tracks selected as singles meant that this album did not actually get released until spring 1975 though.

If "Chicago VII" had suggested that the band were intent on returning to their roots in big sound jazz rock, "Chicago VII" once again dispelled such notions, the focus being on generally shorter commercially orientated songs more in keeping with "Chicago VI". Somewhere along the way Laudir de Oliveira, who had played percussion as a guest on previous albums, became a full band member; the first (albeit minor) alteration to the line up since the band's inception.

The album opens rather innocuously, with the blues funk of Peter Cetera's "Anyway you want". This admittedly enjoyable number sees Cetera singing falsetto at times while the band have a ball behind him. Part one of James Pankow's "Brand new love affair" slows things right down, Terry Kath's vocals being reminiscent of those of George Benson among others. Part 2 picks the pace up, with a brass arrangement and the voice of Peter Cetera being more in line with traditional Chicago. Since Pankow was not a singer himself, he would reportedly "audition" the band's singers before choosing who should take the lead on his songs.

Cetera retains the lead vocal for Robert Lamm's simple pop ballad "Never been in love before". Cetera's own composition "Hideaway" is something of a surprise. The heavy riff appears to have been lifted straight from an early Black Sabbath album, Peter's distorted vocals being a reasonable impression of Ozzy himself. This sublimely heavy track, which is devoid of brass, is a decent stab at a style previously alien to Chicago.

Terry Kath's short acoustic ballad "Till we meet again" seems to be the most overlooked song on the album. It reminded me a bit of Home's "The Alchemist", the pleasant melody and simple harpsichord accompaniment being all that is needed here.

Robert Lamm's appeal to "Harry (S) Truman" sees the band lurching into satire, the song being an appeal after the Watergate incident for the US to return to the good old days. The mass choir on the chorus gave the song a commercial bent which led to it becoming a novelty hit single.

The longest track on the album is Terry Kath's "Oh, thank you great spirit", generally acknowledge to be a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Kath takes the opportunity to add some fine lead guitar, including a reference to Hendrix's "Purple haze". Once again, the track is devoid of brass, the album as a whole probably being the band's least brassy ever. The arrangement of the track is "Freebird" like, the ending being somewhat more urgent than the beginning.

The prolific Robert Lamm writes four songs here, the third of which is "Long Time No See". While reverting to a traditional brass arrangement, the song is one of the more prosaic on the album, and perhaps offers an indication that the pressure on Lamm to keep writing was taking its toll. Lamm's final contribution "Ain't it blue" has a Three Dog Night feel. Terry Kath and Peter Cetera share the lead vocals on the track, singing one then the other, rather than in harmony.

The album closes with James Pankow's hankering for the "Old days". Peter Cetera is afforded lead vocal duties, the song being littered with various reminders of times gone by. The nostalgic elements and the catchy hook resulted in another hit single for the band (in the US at least, at this time they were all but forgotten in Europe).

While "Chicago VIII" is an obvious attempt by the band to move back towards simpler songs with catchy hooks, it is for me a highly enjoyable album. The schmaltz which would soon infect the band is largely held at bay here, indeed this is one of their most rock orientated albums. The relegation of the brass to a minor supporting role is disappointing given that it is the band's trademark sound, but that aside, this set is worthy of investigation.

The CD reissue contains three bonus tracks, two of which are "studio rehearsals" of otherwise unavailable songs. "Sixth sense" is a jazz funk instrumental which would have been out of place on the album, but would have fitted in well on "Chicago VII". Robert Lamm's "Bright eyes" is more in tune with the tracks on the album, but its lightweight nature made it an obvious target for omission should space become tight. The final track is a fine cover of Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll" performed live on Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's eve. in 1974.

Easy Livin | 3/5 |

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