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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Chicago: Chicago VI


1) Critics' Choice; 2) Just You 'n' Me; 3) Darlin' Dear; 4) Jenny; 5) What's This World Comin' To; 6) Something In This City Changes; 7) Hollywood; 8) In Terms Of Two; 9) Rediscovery; 10) Feelin' Stronger Every Day.

General verdict: I guess this is pretty much like your sixth album is expected to sound, unless you're David Bowie or Tom Waits... you know.

Despite some changing circumstances (for instance, the fact that the album was recorded in Guercio's new studio in Nederland, Colorado, rather than in New York City), the difference between Chicago V and Chicago VI is relatively nominal. Still short, still dominated by Lamm, still continuing the transition to a softer and smoother sound — although, all things considered, I think that I would recommend VI over V anyway, even if this time around there is nothing to take the place of ʽA Hit By Varèseʼ and prove Chicago's weakened, but ongoing allegiance to the experimental schools of music-making.

By this time, critical thinking had decidedly turned against Chicago, prompting Lamm to begin the album with an angry response to the critics — "what do you want, what do you want, I'm givin' everything I have, I'm even trying to see if there's more locked deep inside". (For some reason, he preferred to arrange it as a heart-on-sleeve piano ballad, so if you do not take note of the title, you may easily mistake it for a rant against an ex-lover). Naturally, the response did not work well, and the lyrics themselves only do an easy job of setting the band up for a new round of retorts and sarcastic puns. However, neither this song nor most of the others on the album are worth hating or despising: at this point, the band still works as a well-oiled machine, and the grooves they keep pumping out often succeed in elevating mediocre songwriting.

For instance, Pankow's ʽJust You 'n' Meʼ, the album's second and most successful single, starts out as a typically bland Latin ballad with the usual annoying vocals from Cetera, but midway through it picks up pace and steam, and eventually the brass riffs begin to walk all over you with the very best manner of Chicago's tightness and braggadocio: not for long, and we still have to return to the ear-withering "you are my love and my life and you are my inspiration" bit before the end (what I'd give for an extended instrumental coda instead!), but it is this kind of develop­ment that separates Chicago, even at the beginning of their downward slide, from genuine mediocrities. A cheesy ballad invades your personal space, ignorable and pitiful; then, suddenly, something lively and exciting springs up to life, and you're all like, «hey, perhaps I was wrong to give up on these guys so soon».

Pankow also wrote the first single, ʽFeelin' Stronger Every Dayʼ, which they also used for the position of hope-giving grand finale — and again, despite all the cheese, its sped-up, boogie-soaked finale, with piano and horns rushing forward in perfect unison, is infectious just because of the general tightness and energy. Next to it, Terry Kath's only contribution to the album, the jazzy ballad ʽJennyʼ, is very disappointing: no memorable guitar lines, slight energetics, and it seems like the man put most of his strength into coming up with the hookline "there's always someone waiting just to shit on you", which does not work anyway because strong language does not come easily to Chicago. The best thing about the song is its solo section, with several over­dubbed slide guitars «drizzling» away in a psychedelic style — but on the whole, the album continues the trend of diminishing Kath's role in the band.

As for Lamm, he is still trying, particularly on the second side of the LP, where he contributes a couple attempts at social commentary — ʽSomething In This City Changes Peopleʼ puts the blame for broken relationships on "flashing cars and money, funny faces, egos magnified", and ʽHollywoodʼ continues the subject by lambasting the glitzy Californian lifestyle (and they lived happily ever after in their hidden log cabin deep in the woods, alone with Nature, away from all sins and temptations of corrupted society... NOT). Needless to say, musically these songs do not feel at all like poisonous social critique — in fact, they are among the album's weakest material, just a couple of limp soft-rock compositions with nominally pretty harmonies: ʽSomething In This Cityʼ could appeal to major fans of Crosby, Stills & Nash, and ʽHollywoodʼ only begins to show marginal promise toward the end, when the rhythm section kicks into gear — Cetera's bass pumping on that coda is amazingly fast and fluent — by which time you have already probably been wondering for about three minutes whether yoou should not have thrown on some Steely Dan instead of these guys.

Ultimately, I feel forced to return to Pankow and state that, at this time, he is the best... well, if not song-writer, then at least groove-churner in the band. The best song here is ʽWhat's This World Comin' Toʼ, not because it asks us the question, but because it sets up a tight, exciting white-funk groove with the horns doing an admirable job of walking all over it. The last couple of minutes, with all the band members equally active at their instruments, is one of the last truly great jams in Chicago history — I feel very sorry that they did not dare stretch it out, because this is the one time that they were truly in the zone during those recording sessions. In a perfect world, this should be placed on any «Best-of-Chicago» compilation instead of the limp pop ballad hits, because this was really the band's true strength: loud, flashy, multi-instrumental jams with so many individual minds molded into one glorious collective whole. And while the market ate them up back at the time, it is only fair that we extract all those glorious, but forgotten moments from the past and give them a proper chance.


  1. The year is missing -> 1973.

  2. Also my pick for all-time coolest LP cover. It was engraved by the American Banknote Company and was like a dollar bill.

  3. The beginning of the Caribou Camp Cocaine Cavalcade into the Netherland of Landlocked Yachtrock. Or whatever they sail in the Rockies. Soon to be joined by the Beach Boys and Elton John.

    Actually, there is some good jamming, and I've always loved the Fender Rhodes on Feelin' Stronger. As far as his writing, I think it was around this time that Bobby's marriage to Karen was unravelling, and she would run into the arms of Dennis Wilson. Might've been fun in '64 but by '74, hardly an upgrade. Then Dennis dumped her for Mike Love's 16-year old niece. Happy family memories! I'd be writing some angry ballads, too.