Chicago XXX


Rhino/Wea, 2006

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


It was in 8th grade that I started to appreciate and listen to rock. The band that brought that out of me was Chicago, not coincidentally one of my dad's favorite bands. I remember joining Chicago message boards and reading that a completely new album was coming out. That was six years ago.

Since then, I've moved onto other bands, other singers. I've grown to love music more than I ever would have expected. Yet through it all, I still wanted to get the chance to experience a new Chicago album. To be honest, I did not expect the opportunity to arise, but suddenly today I was rewarded with Chicago's 30th album.

Chicago fans be warned; this is not the second coming of CTA. In fact, XXX doesn't come close to the best albums of the band. The record also is not a return to form of the early 70s sound. What it is instead is the best possible record Chicago could have recorded in 2006. There are hints of the 70s and 80s era of the band that are molded into a modern sound.

The best such example of this variety is evident after one listen through the album. Essentially, the first six tracks are power ballads in the vein of what one would have heard on 17. The second half of the album reverses course completely, resembling the pop of XI or X. Because of this half and half phenomenon, problems do arise in the overall momentum of XXX. In fact, my biggest complaint was that the running order should have been altered, with a better mix between the up-tempo tracks and the ballads.

A few tracks stand out in the first half above the rest. "King Of Might Have Been" defines the prototypical Chicago ballad, staring out slowly but gradually hitting its stride with a strong chorus and backing orchestration reminiscent of "Love Me Tomorrow" or "Hard To Say I'm Sorry," while "Caroline" claims the title of best ballad.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

All three of the lead vocalists make appearances, asserting once again that Robert Lamm, Bill Champlin, and Jason Scheff make a terrific mix. XXX is Jason Scheff's strongest album since the 80s; the songs are more suited to his style rather than attempting to imitate Peter Cetera's. On top of that, the horn section of Jimmy Pankow, Lee Loughnane, and Walt Parazaider blend perfectly with the vocals, weaving in and out at the opportune moments, hitting all the right notes. Producer and member of Rascal Flatts Jay Demarcus and his fellow band members contribute beautiful vocals to "Love Will Come Back," adding a small blend of country to the proceedings.

The horn section, which in the 80s was pushed aside, is finally back in the forefront for XXX, mixed as prominently as the drums or guitars. On a bluesy number like "Already Gone," the horns that drive the song. This is easily Pankow's best work since the big band tribute album Night & Day. There are a few moments thrown in for the individual brass players to shine, such as the point in "Already Gone" where the pace slows to throw in some old school 50s jazz trumpet and flute. "90 Degrees And Freezing" showcases some of the most energetic performances from the three off the whole album, while concurrently being the best example of the jazz-rock band Chicago once was.

It is the second half of XXX where things really pick up, and the best music off the album can be found. The first four tracks are a series of stellar songs, allowing the band to stretch out musically and rock a little bit for the first time in decades. "Come To Me" is a modern reworking of one of my favorite Chicago tracks, "This Time," capturing that 70s vibe perfectly. "Where Were You" is as close to balls-out rock as Chicago has gotten since Stone Of Sisyphus, going for meaty guitar riffs and a strong refrain.

Everything is not rosy on XXX, though. The opening track, "Feel," is present in a non-horns and horns-inclusive form. The same track with superficial differences is unacceptable, especially when the non-horns version lacks that Chicago sound. Without the horns, it's a standard mid-tempo ballad. "Why Can't We" is a duet between Bill Champlin and Shelly Fairchild, but lacks a sense of chemistry between the two, and when sparks don't fly during a duet it usually spells ineffectiveness. Also, "Long Lost Friend" is the one track on the record that sound like it could have been lifted straight off 21, and also happens to be the most cloying and clichéd ballad of the bunch. The other slower numbers certainly aren't original, but they are just stronger works.

Overall, XXX contains its share of catchy melodies and professional performances while giving off the impression that the members of Chicago were having fun, which unifies the material. Flaws and all, it is easily their best official studio album since the mid 80s.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2006 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rhino/Wea, and is used for informational purposes only.