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Chicago - Chicago 13 CD (album) cover

CHICAGO 13

Chicago

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

1.75 | 26 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
1 stars As regards the history of this group, it's time now to share a shred of good news. Chicago XIII is better than Chicago XII (otherwise known as "Hot Streets"). I must issue a note of caution, however. In this case the word "better" must be buffeted with an enormous amount of perspective being applied. It's the equivalent of announcing in April 1912 that, unfortunately, the Titanic is still nestled at the bottom of the Atlantic but they did manage to recover some bodies. For those of us who'd hoped that the ocean liner Chicago, contrary to rumor, had merely sprung a serious leak on their long journey this was hardly consolation but at this juncture we'd gladly take any positive information we could get. Their once-glorious ship had been taking on water ever since album VII but the untimely death of guitarist Terry Kath had proved to be their dark iceberg. They'd been given the opportunity to make crucial repairs and shock the world by emerging from that tragedy with a renewed jazz/rock fusion-fed spirit of adventure yet they'd failed to do so. All they did was save themselves by hopping into the convenient boats of commerciality and watch from afar as what was left of their prog legacy sank below the waves.

The miniscule improvement I speak of is in the overall fidelity of the recordings. The band had brought in experienced producer Phil Ramone (replacing the out-of-touch James Guercio) for the previous album but he must've been handcuffed by certain elements in the membership because it sounded completely flat and lifeless. For XIII he was able to give the tracks a slick, inviting sheen that at least makes listening to the material less of a chore and for that I'm thankful because the tunes, for the most part, are low grade. In an attempt to inspire everybody to get fully involved in the endeavor they allowed each man to contribute a minimum of one number but that ploy rarely results in a cohesive collection of songs and it didn't in this case, either. The album has all the earmarks of a group of individuals that have no clue as to what they're supposed to do next.

Chicago's final LP of the 70s opens with drummer Danny Seraphine's "Street Player," a nine-minute foray into the land of a thousand dances. It's glossy west coast R&B from the word go but, in its favor, it does have some redeeming qualities. Their heralded horn section is crisp and punchy and the tune projects a friendly Boz Scaggs atmosphere insofar that it flirts with stepping over into disco territory but never completely surrenders its soul to its mind-numbing lure. Bringing in Maynard Ferguson to deliver a hot trumpet solo was a very good idea as well as having the gifted Airto Moreira assist in the percussion department. The breakdown section in the second half, punctuated by a spirited flurry of horns, is entertaining yet the number's blatant attempt to draw in the Saturday Night Fever crowd is nonetheless unnerving. The rolling pop rock motif of bassist Peter Cetera's "Mama Take" isn't degrading in itself but the song is just too weak to be memorable and nothing occurs dynamically to distinguish the presentation. Once again they're guilty of playing it way too safe. Kath's replacement, Donnie Dacus, wrote "Must Have Been Crazy" and it, more than any other cut, highlights the identity crisis the group was caught up in. It's a cookie-cutter copy of what a host of other boring rock groups of that era were putting out and it most definitely doesn't sound like Chicago at all (which could be a good or bad characteristic when you think about it). Walter Parazaider and Lee Loughnane cooked up "Window Dreamin'," a mild rocker with a highly predictable arrangement. The white boy funkster approach never worked too well for them in the past but evidently they were determined to keep trying even if it evoked nausea in the listener. This is poor with a capital P.

Keyboardist Robert Lamm's role as principal songwriter had dwindled to next to nada over the years but, to his credit, he delivers one of the few bright spots on XIII in the form of his "Paradise Alley." While it does have a questionable Caucasian funk foundation he included enough of a jazzy edge to make it worthwhile. The tight horns add spice and, by playing around a bit with the time signature, they manage to create something relatively decent. Seraphine's "Aloha Mama" owns a New Orleans flavor that is slightly refreshing yet one can't help but feel that they had a golden opportunity here to spring loose with some stimulating jazz excursions. Sadly they didn't, seemingly content to tread complacently in their tepid comfort zone. A discouraging disco throb resonates throughout Lamm's contemporary rocker, "Reruns," dating it horribly. Once again the anemic composing dooms the track as the tune goes nowhere and does nothing on the way. Cetera's "Loser With a Broken Heart" is a dreadful ballad delivered without a trace of the horn section to be found (perhaps they were smart enough to call in sick that day and steer clear of this turkey). It comes off like an unfinished demo and Ramone should've had the balls to step in and stop this turd from ever going public. Conga man Laudir De Oliveira at least offers a breath of oxygen at this point via the jazzy feel his "Life is What it Is" has but it's extremely lightweight and hasn't a chance in hell of saving the album from itself and its trying-too-hard-to-be-trendy vibe. James Pankow's "Run Away" sports an aggressive beginning but soon the number takes a familiar path and all that potential excitement goes swirling down the drain. It's mediocre pop that's so lacking in anything interesting as to render itself woefully irrelevant. It brings to mind the motto of the crusaders in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Run away, indeed.

To say Chicago was drifting aimlessly at sea without a rudder as the 70s came to a close is a gross understatement. The record fell short of breaking into the top 20 on the album charts and spawned nary a hit single so within the ranks panic was on the verge of erupting. AM radio fare had become their bread and butter during the decade and now even that profitable aspect of their art was fading fast. Like many groups, they started to point fingers at everyone except themselves and hirings and firings were soon to be in store. I find the pretentious cover art significant. The band had all the outward appearances of being a sturdy skyscraper but the building was almost vacant, built on shifting sand and could topple at any moment. Chicago XIII isn't as putrid as XII but, in retrospect, what does it matter? 1.2 stars.

Chicapah | 1/5 |

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