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Chicago - XXXII - Stone Of Sisyphus CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.71 | 37 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars 32 was 22 in 94

One of the things which has always distinguished Chicago's albums is the way they are numbered sequentially, with the odd exception such as "Hot Streets". Up to "Twenty 1", that numbering has been pretty straight forward, the studio albums being interrupted only by the occasional live set or greatest hits package. From here on though, it gets a bit messier.

"Twenty 1" is widely accepted to be a right turkey in the band's discography. When their determination to find commercial success at the expense of making credible albums turned sour, even the band realised that the game was up. In 1993, they returned to the studio with the intent of recording an album which would restore their reputation for making serious music. The result was "Stone of Sisyphus", scheduled to be released in 1994 as "Chicago 22".

The Record Company however was unhappy with the product which was delivered, and refused to release the album. More recently, it has also been revealed that the shelving of the album was due to a stalemate between the band's management and the record company over the re-releasing of their back catalogue. Tracks from the album trickled out over the succeeding years on bootlegs, compilations, and in the live set. In 2008, Rhino Records finally gained permission to release the complete album, it being given the number 32 "XXXII" in the sequence ("31" was yet another compilation). For reasons unknown, one track, "Get on This", was dropped. The listing of the album as a 2008 release is therefore correct, but this is a 1993/4 album and needs to be seen in that context.

For this album, Producer Peter Wolf was brought in, the line up remaining unchanged from "Twenty 1", although this time new drummer Tris Imboden plays on all the tracks. Incidentally, the album title comes from Greek mythology, Sisyphus being a king who was punished by the gods by being made to continually push a boulder (stone) up a hill.

The album is sometime hailed as a lost classic, offering a major return to the glory days, and to a certain extent this is true. The opening title track is certainly a horns driven slice of Chicago rock. It remains far more commercial in nature than the band's jazz rock experiments of the early double LPs, but it is pure Chicago. The following "Bigger than Elvis" reverts to the ballad style the band relies so heavily upon on more recent albums. To some extent though the AOR is suppressed, the ambitious vocal arrangement resulting in a highly impressive, if hardly ground breaking song.

Robert Lamm's "All the years" is something of a party piece, with an all-together-now chorus. The track includes radio snippets and a reprise of "The who world's watching" chant from the very first album. The song also appeared on Lamm's solo album "Life Is Good in My Neighborhood". Jason Scheff's "Mah-Jong" similarly appeared on his solo album, this rather funky affair being more in line with material on the band's albums around "VII" to "X". Lamm's second composition, "Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed" sees the band exploring hip hop (honest), the mixture of hard brass based rock and rapping actually working reasonably well.

Scheff's "Let's take a lifetime" is the second ballad of the album, indicating a marked reduction in the quota of that style here. His Peter Cetera like vocal means the track sounds more like the recent output of the band, but the real horns and sympathetic arrangement make for a decent song of its type.

Robert Lamm's third track, "The pull" is the best of his contributions. OK, it is a bit close to the Foreigner/Starship stuff the band released in the late 80's and early 90's, but it is arranged superbly, with screaming lead guitar, brass fills and a powerful vocal.

James Pankow's sole writing contribution, in conjunction with Lamm, is "Here with Me (Candle for the Dark)", a power ballad. Hardly the most distinguished track on the album, but it does bear a nice vocal performance. Bill Champlin co-writes the last three tracks on the regular album. "Plaid" Is a funky pop rock number which demonstrates his ever increasing confidence as a singer, while "Cry for the Lost" is reminiscent of the fine work of Level 42 and indeed of Todd Rundgren.

The final track, "The show must go on" is, like all the songs here, an original not a version of other songs of the same name. Although slightly longer than the other tracks on the album, it is another mid-paced rock song.

The decision by the band's record label to reject this set has to be seen as one of the daftest ever. This album may not represent the band's best work, nor does it signal a total return to their roots, but it is light years better than anything they recorded in the ten years before it was completed. We can only be thankful that good sense eventually prevailed, and it was added to the official discography.

The album includes four "bonus tracks". The first of these, "Love is forever" is a demo from the "Twenty 1" sessions. Given how bad that album was, we might expect that for a song to have been rejected must mean it really stinks. In actual fact, it is an OK ballad, which probably just did not fit. The two following tracks are demos of two tracks on this album, while the final song is an alternative mix of the title track.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |


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