By 1982, there was little indication that Chicago would ever be a viable musical entity again. Chicago XIV had bombed, Peter Cetera had one foot out the door and the group was drifting. That all changed on Chicago 16 with the addition of Bill Champlin to the lineup and the production magic of David Foster.
Foster completely revamped the sound of the band, making it much more aesthetically pleasing. Gone were the days of “The Ballet” and “Elegy.” The new and improved Chicago was set on scaling the pop heights with no more thought given to the avant-garde.
So, in essence, 16 is filled to the brim with '80s keyboards, '80s sounding drums, '80s sounding everything, That must have been fresh back in the '80s, but there is no denying 16 sounds rather dated when listened to today. That being said, the new remastering improves upon the original CD tremendously; it's as if you’re listening to a whole new record.
As a Chicago fan, I understand the importance of 16. However, I still don’t find it that good of an album. There are many lackluster tracks to be found. For the first time, the band sought the aid of songwriters from outside the group, and this leads to tracks that don't have the distinctive Chicago sound. “Chains” and “Rescue Me” sound like they could have been recorded by any nondescript band.
Yet with Foster on board, the listener is almost assured of a few pop gems. Everyone remembers “Hard To Say I’m Sorry/Get Away;” it was Chicago’s second number one single. Sappy? Yes. Clichéd? Yes. But damn it if it isn’t the perfect '80s power ballad, just ahead of “Love Me Tomorrow.” This song essentially defined the approach Chicago would take for the next two decades (including the lack of the horn section).
To claim the Foster eradicated the horns completely is erroneous. However, he relegated them to being sidemen (sidehorns?), instead of the driving force that Pankow, Parazaider and Loughnane had once been in shaping the band's early sound. There are moments that recall the glory days -- “Bad Advice,” What Can I Say,” -- but they are few and far between.
With Champlin, Chicago found a vocalist that could handle the soulful aspect of their work that they had lost when Terry Kath accidentally killed himself. Champlin acquits himself admirably on 16; his work is some of the best of '80s Chicago. “Follow Me” is a powerful rocker that should have been released as a single. The interplay between Cetera and Champlin on “Waiting For You To Decide” is one of the highlights, both complementing each other beautifully.
Chicago 16 propelled the band back to the top of the pops. However, it was really propelled on the strength of one hit single more than overall quality. The band would reach the pinnacle of this career phase with their next disc, making this one pleasant but not great.