Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chicago V (1972)

After a string of double-LP releases and the arguably over-ambitious quadruple-LP live album, Live at Carnegie Hall, Chicago released their first regular length album. What arguably sets V apart from many of Chicago’s subsequent albums, the band crams as much creativity and talent into this single-player as they had into Chicago III, which had its moments but also could have benefitted from a bit of editing.

The album opens with the Lamm penned A Hit by Varèse. An enjoyable musical excursion that shows a band firing on all cylinders musically and lyrically laments Lamm’s boredom with the music of the day and his thirst for something more adventurous… and that something more adventurous is exactly what the band delivers on this track.

The band changes gears slightly on All Is Well which features a sublime horn chart and a thoroughly enjoyable melody and some of Chicago’s tighter vocal harmonies in an era in which they were arguably known far more for their musicianship, musical adventurousness, and instrumental prowess than their vocal harmonizing capabilities.

Why Now That You’ve Gone was never released as a single is beyond me. It’s easily one of Chicago’s best album cuts ever, bar none. Starting with some solid and infectious drumming by Danny Seraphine, Robert Lamm’s organ and Terry Kath’s rhythm guitar follow shortly thereafter, followed by the horns, and Terry’s vocals. The rhythm grabs you by the short and curlies, the horns get a death grip on your soul, and Terry’s souful vocal guides you through this catchy musical journey. If this had been released as a single it would have been a nice counter balance to their later string of soft-rock saccharine-driven tight melodic late seventies and early eighties soft rock staples.

Lamm’s socially conscious Dialogue Pts. 1&2 follows. The song is a conversation between a socially conscious ideologue (sung by Terry Kath) and an out of touch student who is just going with the flow (sung by Peter Cetera). While the horns are present on Dialoge Pt. 1, it’s much more notable for the tight rhythmic chemistry between Kath, Cetera, and Seraphine and features some of Peter’s finest bass playing. In later years Peter of course became much more known for his vocals, but throughout Chicago and predominantly on this and songs like State of the Union, Peter’s melodic style and bass-playing chops are quite evident. Dialogue Pt. 2 is more of an instrumental showcase than vocal showcase but also features some tight vocal harmonies from both Terry and Peter.

The album does not let up on While the City Sleeps featuring Robert trading his lead vocals with a tight harmony vocal led by Peter Cetera. The song also features what might be an otherwise overlooked Terry Kath guitar solo with the horns offering a soft musical carpet to layer his guitar over. The juxtaposition of Terry’s raw guitar against the smooth horns draws greater attention to both the horn chart and to Terry’s solo. The only complaint one might have of this song is that the ending is somewhat abrupt and anti-climatic.

Saturday In the Park was the opener on side 2 of the LP. It’s an excellent opening track and on the CD release it feels somewhat lost in the middle, sandwiched between While the City Sleeps and State of the Union. It’s success as a single is a testament to its popularity. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable and un-offensive track about spending a Saturday in Central Park that happened to fall on the fourth of July (which would insinuate the song was written in 1970, the most recent Saturday to have fallen on the fourth of July at the time of the song’s release).

State of the Union is one of Lamm’s socio-political gems. Musically speaking it’s an excellent song, Peter shines both on vocals and on bass. The horn chart is one of the best on the album (although, in all fairness, I’d argue there’s not a weak horn chart on the album). Terry’s rhythm playing is also enjoyable but (at least on the Rhino re-release) has been pushed more to the back of the mix in favor of bringing Peter’s bass and the horns closer to the front of the mix and making them considerably more noticeable.

Goodbye is another example of a band firing on all cylinders and all the pieces coming into place just right. The song is a look back on the previous few years of the band’s existence and a farewell of sorts to Los Angeles (Chicago V was recorded largely in NY and the next several albums would be recorded at producer, James William Guercio’s Caribou Ranch in the Colorado Rockies). The song is good throughout but really hits its stride at about the 3:37 mark (“Feels so good to be soaring, ‘Cause LA was so boring, Goodbye”) and then again at about the 4:06 mark a musical reprise of sorts (“There must be room for growing, somewhere else, and I’m going, Goodbye”). Between this and the aforementioned A Hit by Varèse, there’s a definite vibe a band that’s creatively restless and hungering for a change of scenery both literal and figurative to re-fill their creative juices.

The LP closed with Alma Mater, a somewhat more elegiac and mournful look at the previous few years. The vocal harmonies are tighter on this song than perhaps any other. From start to finish Chicago V, in addition to being a creative triumph is possibly the band’s most consistently lyrically autobiographical album. Alma Mater is also a look to the future—“We must set new goals, we must not lose control of the possibility, of finding the discovery, that would let everybody see, that we were just meant to be”).

The 2002 Rhino re-release continues the musical journey with an instrumental version of A Song For Richard and His Friends, a song that had previously only appeared on Chicago Live @ Carnegie Hall release. It was and perhaps remains Lamm’s most outspoken middle finger at the establishment song ever. A song whose somewhat prophetic lyrics begged for Richard Nixon to quit… In 1971, over three years before he actually did. The instrumental version includes a heavily distorted Terry Kath guitar solo. Stripping away the lyrics the song does get a bit of new life as it allows the listener to focus more on the music and less on Lamm’s politics. The horns are slightly out of tune, on purpose (I’m guessing) as a reflection of the discord (or would it be dis-“chord”) felt at the time in which the song was written. While the instrumental does certainly have its moments, chances are it would largely be skipped over by the casual listener and only the more devoted of the fans would take the time to give it a fair listen. Trying to be objective, the inclusion on the re-release neither adds to nor subtracts from the album with its inclusion.

The re-release also features an early arrangement Mississippi Delta City Blues a song that the band had played in their early days on the Chicago club circuit before relocating to L.A. and would later appear with a somewhat different (and arguably better) arrangement on Chicago XI, Terry Kath’s final album with the band.

The last cookie that Rhino tossed the fans on the re-release was the single-edit of Dialogue Pts. 1 & 2. Its inclusion is somewhat unnecessary as a sizable chunk of the song was removed for the single edit (over two minutes).

Between 1969 and 1972, Chicago released 3 double LPs, a quadruple LP live album (Live at Carnegie Hall), a double LP live album (Live in Japan), and this album. In hindsight one might argue that the band essentially “blew their load” on these releases. And certainly an argument could have been made for them to have better paced themselves as subsequent albums displayed a noticeable drop in quality and a shift in direction from being musically adventurous to being more pop-friendly. With that in mind, Chicago V marks the end of an era. There would still be occasional flashes of the creativity and adventurousness displayed in this era, but as time progressed those flashes of creativity and adventurousness grew increasingly fewer and farther between.

Related Links

Now That You’ve Gone (Live)

Saturday In the Park (Live)

Dialogue Pts. 1 & 2 (Live)

Chicago V (Wikipedia)

Chicago V (AllMusic)

Chicago (official site)

Chicago (Wikipedia)

1 comment:

Charlie said...

This is the last of the albums from their very artistic, eclectic period. The album contains everything from Top 40 pop songs such as "Saturday In the Park" to avant-garde jazz that is best exemplified by "A Hit By Varese." "Dialogue" may be their best socially conscience song ever. "Now That You've Gone" is the standout track and offers everything that is great about early Chicago. Walt Parazaider blows his brains out with a truly wonderful sax solo, rocking hard over the brass. Other terrific tracks include "All Is Well," "State Of The Union," and "While The City Sleeps." However, there were warning signs of the future. "Saturday In The Park" is pure pop rock and was the first indication that the band may be heading in a more mainstream direction. No one thought much about it at the time because it is a terrific song. If their change in direction continued to produce songs like this top 40 Robert Lamm classic no one but the worst cynic would be having a laugh at Chicago's expense today. This indispensable album is the group's third best album ever and often threatens to move up higher on the list depending on my mood.