Monday, February 04, 2008

Chicago XIV (1980)

By 1980 Chicago's fortunes had taken a turn, and not for the better. After the death of guitarist, Terry Kath, the departure of Brazilian percussionist Laudir de Oliveira, and the unsuccessful initial attempt at replacing Terry Kath with Donnie Dacus Chicago found themselves in the studio with producer Tom Dowd and new guitarist, Chris Pinnick.

Where Dacus style had been a departure and a completely new direction for the band, Pinnick's fiery rhythm and lead guitar work was considerably more reminiscent of Terry's. Even so, Chicago XIV is a capsule of a band that seemed lost and still struggling to find their way after Kath's death.

The most noticeable change in the band was the absence of a third lead vocalist. Where Dacus both sang and played guitar. Pinnick was no singer-- leaving the band with only Cetera and Lamm on lead vocals. The absence of that third lead vocalist was quite conspicuous and left this album sounding rather uneven, even in comparison to their 2 albums with Dacus augmenting their sound.

That being said, the material on XIV is considerably stronger than that on XIII (arguably the band's weakest album). The band was sticking their toes in different styles of music and sticking their finger in the air to determine which direction the musical winds were blowing so they could change their style to fit the changing times.

Some of the songs work, and work well-- Manipulation is catchy and driven, Overnight Cafe has a thick driving bass line that really showcases Cetera's oft-overlooked talents on the bass. But the songs featuring Cetera also give the feel of a man with one foot out the door. The musical style of the songs co-written by or featuring Peter's vocals sound rather similar to the material on Peter's 1981 self-titled debut album-- giving fans at the time shades of the music to come the following year and inching Peter that much closer to his 1985 departure.

Lamm's material, as in the past, has a socio-political bent to it that reflects the general pessimism and "malaise" (in Carter's words) of the country coming out of the seventies. While sharp and biting as much of his material in the past had been, his vocals on this album don't show quite the depth of conviction that his similarly biting songs from previous albums had.... But then again, even Robert Lamm at his worst is considerably better than many songwriters at their best.

Overall, this album would probably be of little interest to anyone but the most die-hard of Chicago fans as it marks a low-point in the band's otherwise rather stellar tenure in the rock and roll canon of America.

Recommended Downloads: Overnight Cafe, Manipulation, Hold On

2 comments:

Charlie said...

I never understood the total hatred for this album by so many people. I think the problem is there is a wider disparity between the good stuff and the bad songs than on any other Chicago LP. XIV far better than XIII and the first 3 post-Peter Cetera albums. I've always thought listeners missed out by not hearing "Manipulation," I'd Rather Be Rich," "Thunder & Lightning," and "The American Dream," all of which to me are vintage Chicago and lost classics.

Matthew Blumenstein said...

XIV, a very flawed album. Granted, I think it's definitely a step up from 13, but it's just weak. The songs (with the exception of Manipulation and a few others) are very poorly written, albeit listenable. Perfect examples of that: I'd Rather Be Rich, The American Dream, Hold On. All very listenable, but not particularly strongly-written.

The first side is abysmal. The only good moment of the first side is Manipulation, my personal favorite from the album. The second side is much better, however. Overnight Café is a favorite, Thunder And Lightning has decent writing, and overall, the second side is quite good.

So XIV, for me, better than 13, but not as good as Hot Streets, as Hot Streets had much more well-written and interesting material on it.

And doesn't that guitar solo at about the third of the way through Manipulation sound a lot like Funk #49?