Sunday, November 20, 2005

Chicago XI (1977)

From the opening bass chops of Peter Cetera and the haunting laugh of Terry Kath- this album is gripping. The final album of the original line-up of Chicago shows a return to some of the hard rock stylings of their 1969 debut album on songs such as Mississippi Delta City Blues and Takin' It On Uptown.

Mississippi Delta City Blues- Viewed by some fans as Terry's swan song. This song can be interpreted on multiple levels. Terry's laugh at the beginning of the song juxtaposed with the lyrics about masking his unhappiness is a very nice creative effect. Peter Cetera shines on the bass on this song. The guitar riff is catchy, the horns accent Terry and Peter's performance. Although this song had been around since Chicago's days playing the club circuit in the late sixties, the lyrics seem particularly pertinent to Terry's feelings at the time of its recording. His unhappiness is expressed throughout the song despite his somewhat jovial tone- it's almost eerie that this was recorded so close to Terry's death.

Baby What A Big Surprise- This is the rough in the diamonds, reinforcing the label of "ballad band" for Chicago. It might as well have been called If You Leave Me Now Part II- This Time We'll REALLY Give You Cavities.

Till the End of Time- James Pankow's second endeavour as lead vocalist. While somewhat slow, this song still contains a lot of the elements of earlier Chicago. The syrup doesn't run quite as thick as on Baby What a Big Surprise. The horns are still quite prominent, the vocals are well done by Pankow leaving some fans wondering why he only sang lead on two Chicago songs during his entire (and continued) tenure with the band. The harmony vocals at the end of the song are some of the best harmonies Chicago has ever done.

Policeman- Musically speaking it's not one of Robert Lamm's stronger songs. The lyrics however are written quite well in a story-telling style which is somewhat reminiscent of the songs of Gordon Lightfoot and Harry Chapin. The horns are quite prominent, Terry's guitar playing accents and compliments the horns nicely. The harmony vocals compliment both Lamm's vocals and the horns. Unfortunately after this song Lamm's songwriting skills seemed to fall into a slump.

Take Me Back to Chicago-
A touching song written by Danny Seraphine and "Hawk" Wolinski for Freddy Page, the late drummer of the Illinois Speed Press. However with Terry's untimely passing being so close to the release of this album this song is seemingly just as much written for Terry as it's written for Page. The preach by Chaka Kahn at the end of the song is a nice touch. This is easily one of the best Danny Seraphine penned songs and it shows his emergence as a songwriter.

Vote For Me- Typical Robert Lamm political commentary. This song is quite tongue-in-cheek, however, lyrically speaking it seems a bit weaker than Policeman. On the musical end of things this song has a stronger feel to it than some of Robert's other endeavours from the late seventies.

Takin' It On Uptown- In a word WOW! Terry Kath at his absolute best! Both vocally and on guitar- Terry Kath shines on this album. Some of Terry's best playing since his marathon solos on Live at Carnegie Hall. The lyrics are written by Fred Kagan, however they seem to carry a similar theme to the lyrics of Mississippi Delta City Blues. This song has a more upbeat theme to it although Terry sings it in an almost angry, fed-up tone. Moreso than any other song of Terry's- this seems to be a duet between Terry the singer and Terry the guitarist.

This Time- For a slower song, Terry really jams on this song as well. Lee Loughnane's lead vocals are very reminiscent of Terry's soulful style in fact at first listen one would almost assume that it is indeed Terry, not Lee, on lead vocals. One of Lee's finer attempts at being a songwriter and a singer.

The Inner Struggles of A Man- The orchestration on this piece provides a beautiful segue from the more upbeat This Time to the more somber Little One. It's a very beautiful piece and it sounds like it could be used for a film.

Prelude (Little One)-
Picking up where The Inner Struggles of A Man crescendoes this is an excellent lead-in to Little One.

Little One- Written by Danny Seraphine for his daughters, Terry puts his stamp on this piece as well. This song can easily be interpretted as being just as much for Michelle Kath as it is for Danny's daughters. The string orchestration in the background really compliments the horns and Terry's voice.

Overall Rating: 8.75 (out of 10)


Becky (CelticGal) said...

I like this one. The tracks are so much better than those on X, even though the horn players can't really sing. This is the high point of the Seraphine-Wolinski songwriting partnership as well. And I really, really love the remaster!

Pegs said...

The Inner Struggles of A Man- The orchestration on this piece provides a beautiful segue from the more upbeat This Time to the more somber Little One. It's a very beautiful piece and it sounds like it could be used for a film.

Actually, it was. My mother was watching some cheesy sci-fi movie with Angie Dickinson (aliens wanting to abduct her for some reason), & in the background came the swells of Inner Struggles Of A Man. I was pretty amazed & then remembered that Dominic Frontiere (sp) was credited as writer/co-writer of the piece. He was very active in TV scoring in the '60s & '70s (the theme for The Flying Nun is the only thing that comes to mind right now). I don't know if the movie or the Chicago album came first & don't remember the title of the movie, either. Sorry 'bout that!

VII is still my favorite Chi album. When VIII was released, it was Huh? What happened? Now I like it just fine, but it would have been more at home following VI instead of the jazz & latin influenced VII. X was ok, (at least it had Once Or Twice to open the album), but to me, XI was a sign the band was going back to their original mission of being a rock band with horns (even with BWABS on there).

Who knows what would have happened except for one tragic night?

Nice review, D!

Perplexio said...

Chicago XI will always remain one of my favorite Chicago albums. There were a handful of Chicago albums which seemed heavily focused on one or two band members. XI seemed like a true group effort-- especially with both Lee & Jimmy contributing lead vocals. It's one of those albums where it seemed everyone in the band got their chance to shine-- which is one of the reasons I so thoroughly enjoy it.

M. B. said...

No guys, I disagree with you, Chicago XI isn't a great album....
Yes, it probably work better than X but isn't so good.
"Mississippi ......" is much better live (and on V remastered) and "Takin' it on Uptown" isn't Terry's best composition, it's good but not wonderful.
Anyway Peter's "Baby, What a Big Surprise" is a gem so as, the usually forgotten, "Take me Back To Chicago".
I always remember it as "The last album with Terry"....a guitar genius, a wonderful musician..........nobody could replace him...............
You'll never known you're my master!

Matthew Blumenstein said...

I cannot stress how much I truly love this album. In my opinion, the only Chicago album better than it is Chicago V, and V is perfect. Yes, this may be heresy, but I like Chicago XI better than II, VII, or CTA.

One of the things that makes this album so great is what I like to refer to as "The Magnificent Three", or "The Dynamic Trio", or something like that. Three songs on here that are some of my favorite Chicago songs of all time. In chronological order they are: Mississippi Delta City Blues, Vote For Me, and Takin' It On Uptown.

Even the Cetera ballad isn't bad. Yes, I kind of like Baby What A Big Surprise.

And of course there's the Danny Seraphine-David Wolinski team with Take Me Back To Chicago, and Little One, some of the best, and saddest songs on the album.

This album is big relief over the mediocrity that was Chicago VIII and Chicago X. Yeah, they had their "Old Days-es", they're "Scrapbook-s", their "Ain't It Blue-s", their "Once Or Twice-s", but Chicago XI is filled with songs of that calibre, whereas VIII and X had just a taste of those.

My only problem with Chicago XI isn't due at all to the music, it's the sloppy packaging of the Rhino re-master. The cover behind the CD is just the police chase picture on the inside of the XI LP, that wasn't scaled to fit CD case size, so they just put two big white bars on the top and bottom. I mean, come on, X was put together better!