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HOT STREETS

Chicago

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

2.06 | 28 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
1 stars With "Hot Streets" Chicago didn't just drop the ball. Again. This time they lost it. Talk about an opportunity missed, the group had a chance to either reinvent itself or return to being the bold, innovative entity they'd started out as. They did neither. First, they'd jettisoned their overlord producer who'd gradually steered them away from their jazz/rock fusion foundation and, secondly, they'd tragically suffered a death in the immediate family that shook them to their core. In January of '78 guitarist Terry Kath accidentally shot himself and left a huge gap for the band to try to fill. What they did do was make a pop record. My thinking is that a more respectful tribute to Terry would've been to make their next album a wildly eclectic affair with lots of unconventional forays into uncharted fusion territories and perhaps bring a host of guest guitarists in to celebrate Kath's influence on modern guitar trends. They were a well-established group so they could've done this and their legion of fans would've understood the sentiment. Instead, they acted more like cautious high-schoolers who'd decided to now emulate the popular jocks and male cheerleaders, shunning their role of being dangerous rebels when their ringleader was suddenly transferred out of the district.

They replaced Terry with a journeyman axe-wielder who'd been working with the likes of Stephen Stills and Boz Scaggs, Donnie Dacus. It's hard to criticize them for that move because he was versatile enough to perform their catalogue of material passably, was able to sing on key and didn't pose a threat to the status quo. I'm fine with them hiring Donnie but the other things they did to try to be "hip" and look like dudes John Travolta would hang out with were a disgrace to their signature faceless legacy that had always let their music do all the talking. The cover shot of them cavorting around in loud shirts and gaudy britches is as goofy and laughable as watching Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd doing their "wild and crazy guys" bit on SNL. Change for the sake of change is rarely a good idea in any situation. Yet I would've been able to dismiss that crass trespass if the music had been so splendid as to make that discretion a moot point. Unfortunately, that's not the case. What Chicago did was to unashamedly woo the reigning Miss Commerciality with their intent being to wed her and co-parent a houseful of chart-topping offspring that would take care of them in their golden years. And, as we all know, those kinds of wide-eyed, rushed-into marriages rarely survive in the long run.

They showcase the "New and Improved" Chicago by opening with a moronic disco groove for "Alive Again," an action that doesn't bode well. You'd surmise that with the experienced Phil Ramone helping to produce the record it would at least sound pretty good but the overall fidelity is surprisingly thin, another bad omen. On one hand this song written by trombonist James Pankow wisely abandons the disco aura early on, smartly avoiding that lethal viper pit, but, on the other hand, it then falls into the equally-constricting rut of contemporary "light rock" mediocrity. It contains nary a hint of dynamics in the mix as all of the music blends into the bland background for the sole purpose of supporting bassist Peter Cetera's "solid gold" voice. It's a mystery to me how a tune so unremarkable could climb into the Top 20 on the singles chart but it did. (Payola, perhaps?) Drummer Danny Seraphine had penned some half-decent songs for the group in its recent past but "The Greatest Love on Earth" ain't one of them. It's as if the band had decided to compete with The Carpenters! Scary title aside, this tune has no redeeming qualities whatsoever (believe me, I looked hard) and is an odorous pile of mush to be skipped. Peter Cetera contributed the next cut, "Little Miss Lovin'," a guitar riff-based rocker that only goes to show how much they were missing Terry's grit. Kath may have been insanely over-the-top and extremely noisy at times but at least he was rarely boring. The presence of the Brothers Gibb in the harmonies and the trendy "New Wave" vibe they inject into the tune both fail to convince the listener that they were revealing anything resembling a fresh angle to their sound.

Keyboard man Robert Lamm tries to concoct a Doobie Brothers style of west coast R&B for the song "Hot Streets" but it's not their forte and it's not nearly strong enough to prop up the tune's weak melody. Still, for what it's worth, it marks an improvement over the first 3 tracks. Walter Parazaider's flute solo and the ever-reliable horn section are the best assets the number possesses while Dacus' guitar ride, aggressive as it may be, is a bit sloppy. Trumpeter Lee Loughnane's sappy "Take a Chance" is next. Something about this pseudo samba brings to mind pastel leisure suits and gaudy gold chains and it's not a welcome sight. I can't imagine anyone deeming this to be quality music under any circumstances. It's as cheesy as ballpark nachos. Donnie does his best to doctor it up but I sense that they were letting him give it a shot simply because he was a change of pace from Terry, not an upgrade by any means. Cetera's "Gone Long Gone" is an acoustic guitar-strummed rocker with thickly-layered vocals typical of that era. It's not awful but it sounds as if they were attempting to manufacture a hit single instead of expressing anything profound. Therefore it comes off as contrived and terribly average.

The low-altitude apex of the record comes via the Dacus/Seraphine composition, "Ain't It Time." It's yet another riff-heavy rocker but this one actually has some genuine punch and an engaging structure. It's far from greatness but at this point I'll take any ray of light, however dim, I can find. The cheap thrill doesn't linger, though, as Lamm's "Love Was New" follows. It's a glossy little number with some light jazz overtones but the progression is so predictable and conservative as to be indistinguishable from shopping mall muzak. Peter, Lee and Danny joined forces to pen the #14 hit "No Tell Lover" but this schlocky ballad sounds like a deliberate copy of many of their mid-70s chart toppers and has about the same effect on me. It's too formulaic, too safe and utterly demeaning to their proud history. Seraphine's "Show Me the Way" is the closer. This plodding song, despite its weird crowd-chant ending, confirms that they were, until further notice, to be quarantined in the "easy listening" section of the record store. A pity.

In wake of Kath's untimely and sad demise, the surviving members decided to act like the invigorating band that created several stimulating albums (II, III and VII in particular) had been interred with Terry's remains and, therefore, wouldn't be coming around anymore. They'd effectively squandered their fat chance to challenge and transcend themselves, preferring to venture forward walking carefully, smack dab down the middle of the road. And, by the way, their followers and the public at large weren't buying into their new slicker image, either. It was the first LP since their debut that didn't crack the top ten list and their return to the Roman numeral system for XIII proves that they realized they weren't going to sell any product on account of their good looks. Alas, their commercial attitude and inclination remained intact. I could no more recommend this album than I could one by The Chipmunks. One star.

Chicapah | 1/5 |

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