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Chicago - Chicago VIII CD (album) cover

CHICAGO VIII

Chicago

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

2.72 | 34 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
1 stars While it's thankfully a rare occurrence, we've all at one time or another had to witness a drastic plunge in a band's creativity level from the loftiest of heights down to the grisliest of dregs that can manifest itself even within the brief span of two consecutive albums. To a true fan this phenomenon is so confounding and maddening as to make a manic depressive's low look like a bad hair day in comparison. After putting out a series of uneven but still above average records in the early 70s Chicago released their hip, jazzy VII in March of 1974 and it remains one of the finest albums (if not their acme) in their hefty catalogue of works. It took a lot of intestinal fortitude to go against the grain and produce a double LP set filled with songs that took so many chances with their pop/rock image but the risk paid off. The record proved so popular that its persistence in holding a respectable position on the charts actually delayed the release of this, the follow up disc. That's why trying to rationalize the spell of incompetence and musical myopia that took hold of the group in the interim is as frustrating as attempting to find a sliver of sunshine in Chicago VIII. To put it more succinctly, WTF got into these guys?

Having a whole year to further explore the intriguing jazz/rock fusion territory they returned to and embraced on the previous album as well as adding a full-time employee, percussionist Laudir de Oliveira, would, one should think, invigorate and encourage the ensemble to be even bolder than before. Yet, in defiance of all intelligent reasoning, they got lazy and fell back into old habits, taking the easiest path possible as exemplified by the opening tune, Peter Cetera's "Anyway You Want." He was the sole member who objected to their adopting the jazzy motif that characterized VII and one wonders if, by letting him lead off the new record, they were collectively trying to make amends for hurting his little feelings. Whatever. Tame as it is, the song isn't as frail as what is encountered further into the record, though, and its nostalgic, swinging rock & roll beat is slightly disarming. The understated vocals don't adhere to the standard Chicago approach but they're not off-putting, either, especially in light of the carefree atmosphere that surrounds this number. If their aim was to start with a more relaxed, less challenging climate this time around they got the job done. James Pankow's "Brand New Love Affair, Part I & II" is next and it's the best cut on the album by far. The first half of the song possesses a small jazz club's sultry aura and features some cool Rhodes piano and muted horns flowing behind Terry Kath's smoky vocal. The 2nd movement evolves into a decent, laid-back shuffle where Peter croons and the brass dominates, brightening the mood. Hope is falsely elevated that great things may be in store.

Robert Lamm's "Never Been in Love Before" follows, a ballad bathing in a warm Latin current that helps it to avoid its boring, schmaltzy fate, becoming a passable piece via some interesting Jimmy Webb-style transitions and detours. Unfortunately things take an ugly turn after that, beginning with Cetera's pitiful "Hideaway." It's a sloppy foray into hard rock completely lacking in focus or definition that sounds more like a demo than a finished product. In fact, the fidelity of this recording has serious problems that can't be excused and that condition says volumes about the group's unforgivable lapse in maintaining objective oversight. Terry's "Till We Meet Again" is an acoustic guitar-driven ditty that's inoffensive but very short and forgettable. The band did score a #13 hit with Robert's Randy Newman-ish "Harry Truman," a throwback tune with a "good old days" political theme. I appreciate it for what it represents and Walt Parazaider's clarinet offers a breath of fresh air at this point yet the song seems out of place here, further evidence of the album having no definite direction. Next comes Kath's ridiculously self-indulgent "Oh, Thank You Great Spirit." After a cosmic opening, you're exposed to a big dose of Hendrix-inspired, electronically-affected vocals layered over phased guitar chords but the main body of the song is a meandering, poor imitation of Jimi's inimitable way of creating abstract dreamscapes. Slowly the tempo increases in increments to support an unstructured and overly noisy ending to this trite, time-wasting track.

Lamm's "Long Time No See" is a non-descript rocker that spotlights the record's dearth of noteworthy compositions, underscoring the impression one inevitably gets that they were content with mediocre, "good enough" performances rather than reaching for any semblance of perfection. Their trusty funk monster is brought out of hiding for Robert's "Ain't It Blue?" and, while it's nice to see the ogre make a belated appearance, even he can't make this weak number dance. James' "Old Days" turned out to be a top five hit thanks in no small part to its familiar, patronizing "Saturday in the Park" vibe but this tepid tune is so vanilla that I've never been able to pay it any attention at all. Its plainness is exasperating when compared to what these musicians were capable of producing.

Chicago VIII hit the record bins in March of '75 and, while it did reach #1 on the album chart, it didn't stay there long and completely disappeared from the Hot 100 list within weeks. In other words, even their fair-weather fans could see that the emperor was naked as a jaybird on this anemic platter of black vinyl. To dazzle the public and the music world so exquisitely just a year earlier and then to so shamelessly defecate on their loyal following by squeezing out this lump of underachievement and expecting them to eat it up soiled their reputation indelibly. Someone in the band should've had the balls to stand up, say that this was beneath them and insist they go back to the drawing board but evidently no one cared enough to take that courageous stance. Too bad, because many of their former admirers were never able to look at them quite the same afterward. They had failed both us and themselves.

Chicapah | 1/5 |

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