Sunday, 13 January 2019
Chicago - Chicago VII ( 1974)
Released March 1974
Recorded in Colorado
Despite the commercial success of 1973's "Chicago VI", the music media and, indeed, some of the band itself, had expressed misgivings about their departure from the lengthy jazzy material of their first three albums into shorter, more poppy, airy sounds. So, they returned, one more time, to the tried and trusted double album format of funky jazz fusion workouts. It was their jazziest album to date, but it also included some of the poppier, rockier material too. It had initially been planned as a jazz-only album, but a compromise was reached, thus it became another double album.
1. Prelude To Aire
3. Devil's Sweet
4. Italian From New York
5. Hanky Panky
6. Life Saver
7. Happy Man
8. (I've Been ) Searchin' So Long
10. Song of The Evergreens
12. Wishing You Were Here
13. Call On Me
14. Woman Don't Want To Love Me
15. Skinny Boy
"Prelude To Aire" has Chicago going all Santana, with world music drum rhythms and flute pounding and floating all around. "Aire" itself is a bit of a throwback to the band's early albums - a horn-powered, jazzy instrumental. It also features some excellent guitar in the middle passage. The instrumental vibe continues with another Santana-esque number, "Devil's Sweet". There are distinct echoes of Miles Davis in this too, for me. It is a ten minute number, so we had a whole side of music before any vocals arrived. Like those late sixties/early seventies days. The drumming is excellent on here, even including a solo, unusual for a studio album.
"Italian From New York" continues the instrumental groove, this time featuring some decidedly futuristic electronic ARP sounds, as if Brian Eno had found his way to the Caribou ranch in Colorado. Mixed with some funky, buzzy wah-wah guitar, it makes for a heady mix. Saxophone arrives as it morphs into "Hanky Panky" too. Pretty adventurous stuff.
Vocals finally arrive in the Beatles-esque but also funky rock of "Life Saver". This is still very much in the vein of the first three albums. The old "side two" closed the first disc of the double album with the laid-back folk-rocky "Happy Man". As competent, interesting and listenable as the instrumentals had been, I can't help but feel that the album sort of starts here.
"(I've Been) Searchin' So Long" was a lush, polished ballad of the sort that the band would come to do more of in the future, featuring Peter Cetera's higher-pitched voice (compared to both Robert Lamm and particularly Terry Kath's deeper voices). The strangely-named salsa-influenced instrumental "Mongonucleosis" (one "g" away from the name of a disease) is lively and energetic. "Song Of The Evergreens" is a slow-paced, evocative bluesy, brooding rock number. About half way through it changes tempo rather like songs by America did during the same period and becomes much faster.
"Byblos" is a laid-back folk-rock number with some simple beautiful cymbal work. It develops into more of a jazzy vibe as it progresses. "Wishing You Were Here" features three Beach Boys (Dennis and Carl Wilson and Al Jardine) on harmony vocals. The song is introduced by the sound of waves. It is very similar to the sort of material The Beach Boys were putting out at the same time - laid-back and breezy. "Call On Me" is a catchy, bright and brassy poppy number with a slick vocal from Cetera. "Woman Don't Want To Love Me" rekindles the brassy funk that they used to do so well. Great wah-wah guitar comes in near the end. "Skinny Boy" is a soulful groove with hints of Little Feat and The Band. It features an excellent vocal from Robert Lamm.
This is a somewhat sprawling, but inventive and highly interesting album. It is worthy of several listens to truly appreciate it. I have to say that I prefer both "Chicago V" and "VI", however.
- January 13, 2019