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Chicago - Chicago [Aka: Chicago  II] CD (album) cover

CHICAGO [AKA: CHICAGO II]

Chicago

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.14 | 197 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
5 stars While the band gets a rep for being a jazz/rock fusion group, one listen to this album shows that isn't quite right, at least not as far as their early recordings are concerned. The brass section is of course what tends to give people the impression this is jazz-rock, but the guitar, keyboards and especially the lyrics tell a different story.

Chicago seem to have been a complicated group of individuals right from the start. Peter Cetera, while cast as the bass player, was clearly one of the more commercially ambitious members and his vocals tend to be more memorable than those of keyboardist Robert Lamm or guitarist Terry Kath. That said, the left-leaning and political Lamm’s warm and even tenor on “Fancy Colours" and "25 or 6 to 4" are a big part of Chicago lore and are instantly recognizable by millions of music fans from at least three generations. His “Poem for the People” and “It Better End Soon” were less well-known and not released as singles, but they reveal a tense political side to the band that reflects the time and circumstances they lived in; the lyrics and guitar work also skirt the line between rock and contemporary American folk in my opinion, along the lines of Harry Nilsson, Warren Zevon and Tom Waits despite the horn trappings. Terry Kath was huge with experimentation on guitar, while Walter Parazaider gave more of an impression of being a virtuoso perfectionist on woodwinds. They were (and are) all consummate musicians, but the collaboration in retrospect seems rather unlikely and unusual (which, this being art, is of course probably why it worked out so well).

The lengthy "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon" gets most of the attention on this record, and of course it yielded the band their first hit single with “Make me Smile”. But for me “Colour my World” is the highlight of the record, despite its being a somewhat uncharacteristic piano and flute-driven acoustic piece with none of the trademark brass that made the band’s reputation. It's kind of like KISS’s “Beth”, Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind”, or Styx’ “Babe” in that respect.

The number of signature Chicago songs on this album are a testament to its prominent place in their discography: “Fancy Colours”, “25 or 6 to 4”, “Make me Smile”, “Movin In”, “Now More than Ever”, “Poem for the People”, “Where Do We Go From Here” and the acerbic anti-war anthem “It Better End Soon” are all classic Chicago and virtually timeless. I bought the 2-disc vinyl version somewhere around 1977 and these songs were still being played constantly on the radio even then; I hear most of them on FM radio regularly even today while traversing across America on road trips, a testament to both the staying power and the broad reach of Chicago’s music, and of this album in particular

For younger and newer Chicago fans I think there might be a tendency to disregard the folksier and multi-part sections of this record in favor of the well-known hit singles. That would be a huge mistake, and you will miss out on a real treat by doing so. Wrap your head around 1970 and all it meant while checking out “It Better End Soon”; and spend some time with a loved-one grooving to "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon" – both are well worth the trip.

Defining a musical masterpiece is so subjective that the exercise becomes irrelevant almost immediately. In the case of this album though, I can easily say that I can't think of a thing the band could have done to make it better, and in that light Chicago II must reasonably be considered a masterpiece. If you don't have this one in your collection, you should.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 5/5 |

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