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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars What had been a hunch on the fifth album became the catastrophic truth in their sixth one. While this album returns to more-evened songwriting equilibrium, keyboardist Lamm still grabs half the songs to him, leaving the rest of the other usual writers. An interesting dollar- bill-like artwork, but that's about all the proghead will find, except for some two longer tracks. Some 10 songs, just like in the previous album, but this time, the longest is under the 5-mins mark. Generally not a good sign, this is no exception to the rule. But please read on.

You just know something's wrong, just by reading the opening track's title, Critic's Choice (even if there is no doubt there is a negative tinge to it), but lyrics aside, the AOR tooting its head to the fore is now out in the open, and we get some very insipid songs from a formerly great band. And it is not the following track Just You And Me that will erase that nauseous feel, either. Don't get me wrong, the things we love in Chicago are still there, but in much smaller quantity and usually drowned in a AOR soup that discourages an attentive listen. Darlin' Dear is slightly better, due to Kath's slide guitar and good horn replies. The Kath-penned Jenny is a very weak track, which coupled with Alma Mater on V, makes him a spent force in the writing dept. the first side opens on a rare good track: What's This World Coming To, a funky brassy tune that the better Kool, Earth or War wouldn't disown. Definitely the album-saver, this track is the only one here that would find space on their first three albums.

The flipside doesn't fare much better, with a slow Steely Dan-esque Something In This City or the following Hollywood (just the track title tells you how bad these tracks are) and the disastrous In Terms Of Two or the closing Feelin' Stronger, both penned by Cetera, the latter showing his rapid climb to control, leading to the disastrous if You Leave Me Now, in a few whiles. Only Rediscovery is above the (album-poor) average track, and had this closer found space on the previous album (V), it would've pushed it from good to very good.

As I was saying at the end of the top paragraph, this album is made of short songs and this was not auguring well, and after listening, it comes as no surprise that the two longer tracks (close to 5 mins) are from far the best of this otherwise atrocious album. Best avoided.

Report this review (#277960)
Posted Thursday, April 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
Tom Ozric
3 stars CHICAGO are a band I've been recently turned on to. After initial astonishment as to why they have been included here in the Prog Archives I've taken the plunge and discovered their 70's and early 80's back-catalogue, and how wrong have I been........for years. This, their sixth album, appears to contain their weakest work up to this point, but still offers some excellent songs and fine playing from all. I'm particularly surprised at the melodicism of Peter Cetera's Bass playing (being a try-hard Bassist myself), the fine, accurate musicianship of the others, including tight arrangements concerning the Horn players. They really did forge a successful formula of Jazzy Brass-rock that took the world by storm. Now, the music here is rather simplified to what came before (and the next, near masterpiece VII), but contains some really special moments which I can whole-heartedly say are worthy of investigation. The album opener, 'Critic's Choice', features just keyboardist Robert Lamm on piano and voice, and sounds like (to me, anyway) something Robert Wyatt wouldn't dis-own. Beautiful chords and key changes here. The smash seller is up next, 'Just You 'n' Me' - what I find to be one of the most perfectly written songs. Ever. It has melody, great musicianship, beautiful vocals and harmonies, and inventive twists and turns, including an instrumental passage not far away from some of SOFT MACHINE's adventurous jams, some clever time signatures and falls together in a most effective way and in under 4 minutes. Great song. Elsewhere, we have some country flavoured pieces (Darlin' Dear and In Terms of Two - not that engaging for many of us), some funky, jammy work-outs with 'What's This World Coming To' and 'Rediscovery' (which sound a bit ahead of their time) and most other tunes have something interesting to offer, whether it's a composition featuring clever use of odd-time sigs (Hollywood), or intelligent vocal harmonies and tasteful melodies (Something in This City...) or even a Hendrix- inspired ballad such as guitarist Terry Kath's 'Jenny'. This may not be a classic example of Jazz-Rock, but it's a really good listen for the most part. CHICAGO do rock (somewhat Progressively, too).
Report this review (#282020)
Posted Saturday, May 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
2 stars First, let me tell you how I obtained this album. A local college radio station had a show every Sunday evening where the DJs had a contest for "The Worst Song Ever". Callers would nominate songs, and then vote for which one was the worst (previous winning songs could not be nominated again). I won for nominating The Safety Dance. The winner was allowed to go into the room with all the albums they had that no one wanted to play, and with the lights out, pick ten albums. Woo hoo!

Anyway, by this time Chicago had dropped nearly any semblance of a jazz rock band. The songs are pop, funk, even a little country and proto-disco. The closest they come to their jazz rock roots is Feelin' Stronger Every Day, and maybe the light Just You And Me.

Report this review (#297463)
Posted Saturday, September 4, 2010 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
2 stars Rocky Mountain highs, and lows

Following the commercial success of "Chicago V", in the US at least, Chicago continued their pursuit of mass popularity with this their second single LP release. By this time, much of the rest of the world, and especially the United Kingdom, had lost interest in the band. Their home nation however continued their loyal support sending the album to the top of the Billboard chart. Two further singles were gleaned from the album ("Feelin' stronger every day" and "Just you'n'me"), both of which made the US top 10.

Apart from the complete absence of any suites or multi-part numbers, the most telling aspect of the track list is the sub- five minute running time of all ten tracks, making this the band's shortest album to date. While the songwriting credits are slightly more diverse than on "V", Robert Lamm still contributes half of the tracks here.

The core line up remains firmly intact with three guest musicians being brought in to add additional percussion and pedal steel. Included in these is Laudir de Oliveira who would also be listed as a guest on the following album before being promoted to full band membership in 1975. Producer James William Guercio took charge of the recordings, which were undertaken at his ranch in Colorado. The transition from recording in familiar surroundings in New York to being firmly directed by the studio owner was sometimes hard for the (still) young members of the band to handle, this being the first time they had really been asked to give up artistic control over their product. The physical challenges of recording some 8,000 feet above sea level also brought its own challenges, particularly for the brass section.

Robert Lamm's opening "Critic's choice" is a piano and voice only appeal to the music press to give the band a break. James Pankow's "Just you'n'me" firmly points to the Peter Cetera ("if you leave me now") era to come, although to its credit the track does feature some good brass. While these two tracks would have made for good openers to one of the band's early albums, here they are among the album's highs. The following "Darlin' dear" is a quite dreadful mess, with the band members seemingly doing their own thing behind some average swamp rock. Terry Kath's "Jenny" finds him doing his best to sound like David Clayton Thomas (BS&T), but the songs is prosaic at best.

James Pankow's other contribution, "What's the world coming to" is a Motownesque mix of The Temptations and Stevie Wonder. It largely works, but it simply was not what Chicago were all about. The slightly more complex arrangement for the downbeat "Something in This City Changes People" does make this track rather more interesting, but at under 4 minutes, it is all too fleeting. "Hollywood" sits well back to back with "Something...", the two tracks making for a decent middle section for the set. Peter Cetera's contribution "In terms of two" once again points towards "If you leave me now", although the track is more whimsical, Cetera's voice and the harmonica accompaniment bizarrely sounding a lot like Lindisfarne.

The funky, semi-whispered "Rediscovery" misses the mark completely in my book, superfluous instructions such as "guitar" simply making this directionless attempt at a style alien to the band all the more cringe-worthy. The album closes with the other single released from it, a Cetera/Pankow composition entitled "Feelin' stronger every day". Here the muted brass backing and schmaltzy multi-tracked vocals are clearly aimed at the singles market, as is the repeated final chorus, and in the US at least it worked.

In all, a decidedly weaker album from the band. The attempts at diversification largely misfire, and the lack of anything substantial from their proven field of excellence combines to make this an album to hear a couple of times and file away.

The CD remaster from 2002 includes 2 bonus tracks. The first of these is a Terry Kath demo of "Beyond our sorrows" featuring just Kath's vocals and piano backing. While Kath puts a bucket load of emotion into this 7 minute dirge, it seems the rest of the band were not as impressed. The second bonus is a cover of Al Green's "Tired of being alone", featuring a guest appearance by the song's composer. Green's use of brass on his own recordings was clearly an influence on Chicago, and here the combination is nothing short of explosive. This rendition alone make the CD release of album worthwhile. The performance is taken from a TV appearance by the band in 1973.

Report this review (#344487)
Posted Monday, December 6, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars By the time Chicago went into their manager Jim Guercio's brand new, state-of-the-art Caribou Studio to lay down tracks for their next album in the brisk, clean air of Colorado they no longer resembled the scrappy, rebellious underdogs they started out as. Due to repeated ascensions up the charts since their ambitious double-disc debut made substantial waves back in '69 they were able to give themselves some slack, take deep breaths and admire the view from the upper echelons of the rock & roll peaks. On their 4th studio offering they finally yielded to going to the less-demanding single LP format and, since their fans didn't raise any stink about the lower price tag, they wisely stuck with it when settling on the material that was to inhabit Chicago VI. But success brought some unique baggage with it and though the band no longer had to prove worthiness they found themselves in the stressful position of having to maintain a much higher standard than when they were still the new kids in town. Churning out hit singles was essential to keeping them in the ear canals of the radio-addicted general public yet they dared not abandon their progressive and jazz/rock fusion roots in the process because they'd run the risk of being labeled as "sell outs" and losing a large percentage of their followers. This was a dilemma tens of thousands of groups struggling for attention in that era would've given their very souls to have to deal with but nonetheless a dilemma it was. These road-weary musicians/songwriters did the best they could to walk that tightrope and I have no doubt that getting out of the city of angels and into the wide open countryside to create fresh tracks was a change of pace they desperately needed early in 1973.

Another curse that came with mass popularity was that the media's observers and/or commentators of the music scene who once fawned all over you for being novel and innovative now dismissed almost every record you put out as being stale and hackneyed whether your audience liked the contents or not. Chicago was being attacked for these perceived indiscretions mercilessly as were the giants of the biz as diverse as Led Zeppelin and former members of The Beatles. That's just the way the game is played but keyboard man Robert Lamm evidently had stomached all he could from those snobby bozos and the group agreed with his disgust, opting to open this album with a simple vocal/piano piece entitled "Critic's Choice." It's an arresting, slightly jazzy ballad of exasperation in which Robert tries to explain that they're all trying their damndest to maintain their integrity but, realizing the critics would ignore his plea for leniency anyway, he strikes back with snarky lines like "What do you really know/you parasite/you're dynamite/an oversight/misunderstanding what you hear." At least he had the balls to fight back. This album is also significant in that it marks the emergence of trombonist James Pankow as a composer of shorter, more accessible tunes. In the past he'd contributed and arranged several of the multi-layered, involved epics that characterized their early offerings but here, with the love song "Just You 'n' Me," he showed he was cultivating a knack for penning radio-friendly fare that would eventually change the band's image (for better or worse depending on one's point of view). This romantic number takes advantage of bassist Peter Cetera's suave voice and avoids being overly formulaic via the airy instrumental segment that features the swooping soprano sax of Walter Parazaider. After the previous LP only produced one big hit it was a relief to the suits at Columbia to see it rise to #4, further reinforcing the commercial continuity they'd been praying the band would develop.

Lamm's rowdy "Darlin' Dear" owns a funky attitude that's extremely welcome at this juncture and guitarist Terry Kath's rude bottleneck slide keeps things from becoming too slick and polished. Terry's weak "Jenny" doesn't work as well, though. The song's too-busy rhythm track detracts from the groove this ballad desperately needed to even have a chance of being memorable. James' "What's This World Comin' To" sports another funkified feel that revives the sagging momentum in the nick of time. The punchy horn section asserts their strong will often and the whole ensemble displays a lot of cooperative enthusiasm throughout the number. It must've been a good day in the Rockies. Robert's "Something in This City Changes People" is next, a slower-paced tune that highlights their superb harmonizing abilities. The subtle congas, Cetera's expressive bass runs and Walter's delicate flute reaffirm that their persistent leanings toward the jazz realm haven't abated. The burg in question is L.A. and Lamm's critical words about its tendency to make those who live there "devil-eyed" pull no punches. "Hollywood" follows, a fine example of their inimitable style that cleverly combines and blends jazz influences into an acceptable rock motif. The inventive, invigorating horn arrangement is a joy to hear and the lyric of "Crazy neighborhood/never understood why I stay" only reiterates their love/hate relationship with the southern California scene.

Peter was a gifted singer but his songwriting skills sometimes left a lot to be desired as "In Terms of Two" clearly confirms. They and many other bands liked to venture into the iffy world of country rock in those days and this is one of those ill-advised experiments that straddles a spiked fence, failing to please anyone. Poco they were not and should've known better. Da funk monster returns on "Rediscovery" to stop the bleeding and to instantly restore respectability. Kath's wah-wah happy guitar ride is playfully sneaky but Robert's Rhodes piano playing is disappointingly tepid when it should've been exciting. Pankow and Cetera's "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" is the closer, a well-constructed song that emphasizes everything the group intended to be known for. An uplifting theme, unforgettable melody line, unorthodox changes in attack and mood as well as their signature boisterous, dynamic horns are all to be found in this tune. No wonder it was a top ten single and is a staple of classic rock radio to this day. Chicago could accept being either loved or hated but not being ignored.

While I don't consider this to be as sub-par as some seem to think, I do consider it as being only slightly above their average due mainly to the inconsistency in the material. I still rank it a lot higher than much of the questionable schlock they would put out later on and find that, as a whole, Chicago VI continues to make for an enjoyable listen. It occupied the #1 position on the album charts for five weeks so obviously it wasn't a flop and only served to further solidify their status as one of the dominant acts of the wild and wooly 70s decade. On this album Robert Lamm's songs in particular helped to offset their growing tendency to become a hit record machine, keeping them valid as a serious, active contributor to the ever-expanding genre of jazz/rock fusion for a while longer.

Report this review (#602012)
Posted Monday, January 2, 2012 | Review Permalink
2 stars The first nine Chicago albums all have their moments, some more than others. Whilst the first two, 1969's debut 'Chicago Transit Authority' and follow-up 'Chicago II', arguably showcase the group at both their most dynamic and experimental, latter albums would feature a different approach, with such seminal pop nuggets as 'If You Leave Me Now', as found on 'Chicago X', and this album's stirring ballad 'Feelin' Stronger Every Day' adding yet another dimension to Chicago's sound. 'Chicago VI' would be the outfit's second single-album after 'Chicago V', and, as illustrated, mark another step away from the 1960's influenced sound of their earlier material. Commercially, Chicago would now go through the roof, becoming one of the most popular American rock acts of the century, attracting a huge new fanbase uninterested in guitar solos and experimental jazz suites and slowly homogenising their sound as the 1980's approached. Whatever your feelings on their gradual change, there is no denying that despite the steady and impressive tide of slick hit singles being produced, their albums were now much less impressive for those fans who enjoyed the groups more esoteric early material. 'Chicago VI' is undoubtedly the weakest of their first seven albums - follow-up 'Chicago VI' would see a brief return to the style of their debut dusted with an even stronger jazz influence than usual - making for an uncharacteristically dull listen. The rather beautiful strains of 'Feelin Stronger Every Day' apart, this is an album with little that is new, and little that is exciting. STEFAN TURNER, STOKE NEWINGTON, 2012
Report this review (#856141)
Posted Saturday, November 10, 2012 | Review Permalink
Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
2 stars Chicago V was pretty much standard fare, but Chicago VI would even lean more towards radio friendly music and you can tell that the songs were trying really hard to be poppy already. The band was not really ready for radio because most of the songs on here sound like poor attempts to make pop music. The guitar is pushed to the background and so are the horns on this one. It is sad to have to say that the best songs on the album were the most popular ones, which is kind of odd because they also have the biggest jazz leanings (which isn't much, but at least it's there). The other songs have taken on a very mellow sound. People were starting to worry that their band had sold out for good. But after two big backward steps, Chicago was about to make a huge step forward again in their next album. For now, this one is pretty boring. I can only pull 2 stars out for this one. It's a shame after the amazing debut album Chicago Transit Authority and it's excellent follow up, Chicago II.
Report this review (#1308530)
Posted Saturday, November 15, 2014 | Review Permalink
3 stars Chicago VI marks a departure for Chicago, as the jazz fusion and progressive stylings that the group had pursued previously were scraped for a sound with a more funky delivery, one that took its influence from Little Feat rather than Miles Davis. Also, Chicago VI was the first Chicago album heavy on ballads and light-rockers, a side effect of both James Pankow's increasingly generic horn arrangements and Robert Lamm experiencing writer's block, not to mention producer James William Guercio's smothering control of the band's sound and image. To make matters worse, the band members were creatively and emotionally drained after four-plus years of non-stop touring and recording. All of these factors contributed to the top-heavy Chicago VI, an album that, if not for several stand out tracks, would have been a lemon. Robert Lamm wrote half of the tracks on Chicago VI. "Critics' Choice" was Lamm's response to the band's negative critics, and a rather scathing lyric as well. Lamm criticizes the bloated egos and self-righteousness of said critics: "You parasite/You're dynamite/An oversight/Misunderstanding what you hear/You're quick to cheer/And volunteer/Absurdities, musicals, blasphemies". I can't help but think that a certain Robert Christgau was the target of Lamm's scorn, and it appears Christgau took it personally. Just take a look at his (very) brief review of Chicago VI: "Any horn band that's reduced to writing songs about critics and copping (unsuccessfully) from both Motown and America must be running out of--how do you say eet?--good charts." More on that copping unsucessfully from Motown later. Aside from the lyrics, "Critics' Choice" is a beautiful piano-driven tune, which adds to the depth of the lyrics. One of the better tunes on Chicago VI.

Lamm's next composition, "Darlin' Dear", is a very funky track, and reminds me a lot of Little Feat or the Allman Brothers Band. Chicago really ventures out of their comfort zone here, and they thoroughly nail it. A rag time piano and a slide guitar, virgin territory for Chicago, are nice touches, and blend in quite nicely with the horns. "Something in the City Changes People", Lamm's third composition on Chicago VI as well as the opener for Side Two, is probably Lamm's best tune on the album. A smooth piano with great vocal harmonies and congas, not to mention fantastic bass playing from Mr. Cetera, set up a dreamy flute solo accented by acoustic guitar, which gently segues into the next track, "Hollywood", another Lamm dittie. "Hollywood" is a rather weak lyric, supposedly critical of the phoniness of Hollywood celebrities, but Lamm doesn't do a very good job of expressing it, even jogging out a tired "Heard It Through the Grapevine" chorus. A very weak track aside from the horns and congas, which really shine on this otherwise lackluster performance. Lamm's final track, "Rediscovery", is quite funky, with a lyric about the narrator going out to a place in the mountains to rediscover himself. The rhythm section is strong on this one, but the funky guitar solo in the middle is a bit weak, and the horns really seem tired and going through the motions at this point.

Terry Kath and Peter Cetera each have one composition a piece on Chicago VI, and, as you probably would have guessed, they're nothing special. Kath's ballad, "Jenny" has good percussion with those congas making another appearance, and rather confusing lyrics. Is it a father talking to his daughter about her new child? Is the narrator a pimp? Is he talking to his baby mama regarding their bastard child? Who knows; the song is pretty forgettable, but not as forgettable as Cetera's piece, "In Terms of Two", which has to be, hands-down, the WORST track on Chicago VI. An uncredited harmonica opens the track, very unusual for Chicago, and what follows is a country-rock tune that falls flat on its face. Whereas the slide guitar worked on "Darlin' Dear", it fails miserably on this track. An obvious attempt at exploiting the country rock boom of the early 70s. There is nothing memorable at all about this track, and I wish that I had never heard it.

The three best tracks on Chicago VI are James Pankow's compositions. "Just You N Me" was a smash hit, climbing to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Pankow wrote the song about his feelings for his future wife, and the emotion really comes through in this one. Cetera has a great vocal delivery, and Walter Parazaider performs a soprano saxophone solo to accompany Terry Kath's wah-wah guitar. Initially, it may sound like a sappy radio-friendly ballad, but it really fills out nicely. The next Pankow piece is "What's This World Comin' To?", the longest track on the album, clocking in at nearly five minutes, as well as the Side One closer. The best lyric on the entire album, the lyrics are politically charged - Pankow borrowing a page from Lamm - with an emphasis on being benevolent toward one another. The lyrics are especially critical of those rich and in power. The terrific rhythm section and horns really flesh out this standout track, as well as a top-notch organ.

Pankow's last composition on Chicago VI, a song which he co-wrote with Peter Cetera, is the seminal album closer "Feelin' Stronger Every Day", the hands-down best song on Chicago VI and one of the group's most enduring tracks. A fan favorite down to the modern day, "Feelin' Stronger" pretty much saves Side Two from being a laughing stock and is the only reason you should still be listening to this album all the way through. Terry Kath uses the wah-wah guitar to perfection on this track, steadily upping the tempo of the track until it bursts out of its shackles about halfway through. There is so much emotion and energy in this song that its premature ending at 4:15 is cruel. "Feelin' Stronger" is one of Chicago's best songs, and it is sure to leave a strong impression on the listener.

Chicago VI was Chicago's sixth album in four years, their fifth studio effort, and all that wear and tear from constant touring and promotion of their albums was starting to wear off. Chicago VI, as a result, sounds a bit tired and lackadaisical. After starting out strong, the album runs out of steam on Side Two, virtually lulling the listener to sleep until the energetic "Feelin' Stronger" revives them again. That said, Chicago VI definitely has high peaks, but it also has very deep valleys. A very uneven record, but it still has enough highlights on it to be worthy of any prog fan's collection.

Report this review (#1425600)
Posted Tuesday, June 9, 2015 | Review Permalink
2 stars A massive withdrawal from epic albums to short commercial more melody-driven songwriting.

The first song is quite good despite simplified composition. Just you'n'me is a disaster for most die-hard Chicago fans, so straightforward and limited with brass section - a shame for 1973 which was one of the most fruitful for fusion and prog rock bands. Short saxophone solo saves it. In general, jazz-rock elements are subdued in favour of accessibility and short songs.

There are still good moments because these are mature musicians. But I would wish for more instrumental moments and more experiments.

It seems like the weakest Chicago album of the first half of the 70's.

Go for the next or any previous album.

Report this review (#2481078)
Posted Sunday, November 29, 2020 | Review Permalink

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