Thursday, August 12, 2010

Robert Lamm - Subtlety & Passion (2003)

The fourth time was the charm for Robert Lamm.  While he'd had success as a member of Chicago, writing hits and fan favorites like Beginnings, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?, 25 or 6 to 4, and Saturday In the Park; his solo material was rather uneven. 

His debut, Skinny Boy, was overly self-indulgent and generally pretentious.  The only tracks worth listening to at all, let alone repeat listens were the title track which was also found on Chicago VII and Fireplace & Ivy.  And with his solo version of Skinny Boy the horn chart had been removed making it somewhat lacking compared to the Chicago version.

The material on Life Is Good In My Neighbourhood was a substantial improvement.  The lyrics were what his fans had come to expect given the material he had composed for Chicago.  However, due to an over-reliance on synthesizers the album ended up sounding more like a collection of demos than a finished product. 

In My Head saw 3 duets with Phoebe Snow.  Now Ms. Snow is a fine singer and her voice complements Mr. Lamm's quite nicely.  However including 3 duets with her on one album was a bit of overkill.  Not all was lost as there is some strong material on the album; Watching the Time Go By featuring Gerry Beckley from America and the late Carl Wilson from the Beach Boys is at least as good as the version included on the 2000 Beckley/Lamm/Wilson trio project, Like a Brother a year later, Love of My Life features some of Robert's best vocals since he was in his vocal prime in the late 60s/early 70s and the alternate arrangement Robert includes on Sleeping In the Middle of the Bed Again from the then unreleased Stone of Sisyphus album, while not as good as the Chicago version, is certainly still worth listening to. 

But finally with Subtlety & Passion Robert was firing on all cylinders.  This is the solo album his fans have been waiting for for years.  Considering that all of the then current members of Chicago performed on this album in some capacity or another and Lamm even wrote a song around an unreleased guitar solo by the late Terry Kath (Intensity) it could be argued that Subtlety & Passion was much more a Chicago album than Chicago XXX ended up being a few years later with its over-reliance on session cats standing in for members of the band. 

Most of the songs feature horns and most of the horn parts are played by Chicago's horn section giving even greater credence to this being more of a Chicago album than Chicago had recorded in a long time.  And what makes the songs so enjoyable is that they sound like Chicago SHOULD have sounded in the years since the passing of Terry Kath and departure of Peter Cetera.  There's an easy-going and likable familiarity to the material which makes it reminiscent of Chicago's long string of hits throughout the seventies.

Some of the standout tracks include the I Could Tell You Secrets, Another Sunday, Gimme Gimme, The Mystery of Moonlight, and the aforementioned Intensity.  The album, from start to finish, is a bit of a return to form for Lamm whose material in the eighties left a bit to be desired-- especially when compared to the brilliance of Chicago's early years when he was largely the band's principal songwriter. 

This, not Chicago XXX, is the Chicago album that their fans had been waiting for for years.  And unlike XXX, most of Chicago actually performed on the album and it wasn't over-produced to the point of sounding completely sterile.  If you are or were a fan of Chicago, skip Chicago XXX and pick up Subtlety & Passion.  The former will leave you scratching your head wondering what happened to this once great band, the latter will put a smile on your face and make you believe that they've still got it... well at least one of them does.

Related Links & Media
Somewhere Girl live

Another Sunday live

I Could Tell You Secrets live

Intensity live

Gimme Gimme live

The Mystery of Moonlight live

Robert Lamm (Blue Infinity)
Robert Lamm (wikipedia)


luminous muse said...

I just interviewed Lamm's friend John Van EPs about the the Chicago Latin album - I'll be posting it as soon as I transcribe/edit.

John worked on a bunch of the stuff you mentioned

I hope you're not disappointed that unlike what I was originally told, Lamm et all are not singing or playing on the record, but it is on their label and has their full blessing.


Charlie said...

Darrin: I agree with most of your review. However, I have always liked In My Head. Other than that we are in total agreement.

Luminous: Yes, Lamm mentioned before that the Latin CD will not really be a Chicago album. He did say that they may make a couple of guest appearances on it.