Memo to Jann Wenner: pull your head out of your ass and allow Chicago in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
There is no question that Chicago is one of the most underrated groups in rock history. According to Billboard charts, they are the second most successful band in America rock history (though the statistics are up for debate). Regardless of the exact numbers, Chicago has amassed over 20 Top Ten hits, five number one albums, and to this point 13 of their albums have hit the platinum level.
Despite all of this, Chicago has remained underappreciated. In the '60s and early '70s, they were too "avant-garde." From the late '70s on to the present; they have been pegged as a "ballad band." The truth of the matter is that Chicago was a rarity; a band that could shift among multiple styles to create their own unique brand of rock and roll.
Chicago VII was the follow-up to the commercial success that was the relatively lightweight effort Chicago VI. However, the lack of critical acceptance, as well as the soft nature of the material on VI bugged the band, and they returned to the studio to record an album that hearkened back to their earlier albums. VII most definitely is a throwback to albums such as Chicago II, Chicago III, and Chicago Transit Authority. For one, the LP is a double album, coincidentally the last one the band would record. The long, sometimes overblown instrumentals return, and practically every band member has a writing credit to their name, furthering the idea of the "Chicago Democracy."
The musicianship of previous albums remains. The band shows off their chops on the entire first side of the album, with "Aire,""Devil's Sweet" and "Italian From New York." The problem is that these tracks run a bit long, and lose their momentum as a result. At times it seems the general idea was to bludgeon people with the idea that this wasn't a band solely capable of recording tracks in the vein of "Saturday In The Park." These aren't poorly made tracks; they just lack soul. The glaring exception is the Latin-flavored "Mongonucleosis." This track has become a live favorite, and justly so. One gets a sense of the band just cutting loose, and jamming all night long.
That said, Chicago VII does indeed venture into pop territory, and this is where the hits come in. "I've Been Searching So Long" and " Wishing You Were Here" are fabulous tracks, the former featuring a lush orchestral sound, the latter highlighting Chicago's harmonies, with some brilliant help from The Beach Boys. The other hit off the album, "Call On Me," is one of those tracks that most people like, but I have never been able to get into. Sure there's a nice beat, but the song borrows liberally from "Beginnings," especially in the closing minute. "Happy Man" is a short, succinct, but strong ballad from Peter Cetera and was also a minor hit.
Terry Kath was the soul of the band, and his usually excellent work does not drop off here. "Women Don't Want To Love Me" underscores how good Kath was at driving a song. His guitar licks are echoed by the horns, and the rest of the band is more than happy to play along. "Byblos" allows Kath to show off his acoustic skills, which are quite impressive. Kath's role in the band had started to decline, but he would remain a team player until his tragic death in 1977.
What prevents this album from being a great LP are the extraneous instrumentals, and some plain old uninspired songs. However, there are enough outstanding moments to make this one of Chicago's better efforts.