Chicago 17


Warner Brothers Records, 1984

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


There are times as a sports fan in which circumstances makes it difficult to root for the hometown team. Take, for instance, the Malice at the Palace a few years back; Indiana Pacer basketball still hasn't recovered from that incident. Try as they might, the memories are still too strong. Walk into any bar and you will have the opportunity to hear some devotee utter the following words: "Well, I'm glad that team didn't win it all; they just didn't feel right."

Now, usually such talk is inspired from some sort of deep-seated desire to be able to rationalize their fandom with a lack of success or a fundamental change in how a team/player operates. Otherwise, the question of why couldn't I root for these guys becomes too great. Why should it matter how they won – all that matters is the win, right? I mean, sure, Barry Bonds cheated the game of baseball, but hey, the team is winning and everyone else cheated, too ,right? But deep down, I think everyone feels that tiny pang of guilt at having to go to bat for his or her team when they really don't want to.

Here's where 17 enters into the mix. Throughout the ‘70s, Chicago had gradually been shifting from a fusion of jazz and rock towards the mellow, less experimental realm of pop rock (let the record state that the band was quite good at it). Yet by the 1980’s, the creativity had dried up and one of America’s most successful bands was seemingly on their way out – or so it appeared.

Enter David Foster into the mix, score a few top ten hits, and suddenly Chicago had gathered a whole new legion of fans. They were being talked about, they were playing to arenas, and they were relevant once more! What could be better for a fan than that? Well, truth be told, the Chicago that scaled the heights of the charts in the previous decade was a completely different organism than what took the ‘80s by storm.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It takes roughly a half a minute before 17 makes it quite clear that it is the ‘80s, and that Frankie Says Relax and everyone is quite concerned with identifying the whereabouts of cow products. The cold, sterile keyboard strokes kick off the album opener "Stay The Night," which also serves notice that Peter Cetera is front and center from here on in. "Okay, Cetera is singing better than ever, that’s good!" the fan says. "They are just getting the poppy stuff out of the way; the horns will be coming soon," the fan says.

But what the fan thinks is coming never does; the chance that success has driven Chicago to be a creative entity again decreases with each passing track. What's left instead is a machine – an increasingly wimpy machine. It wasn't as if power ballads had not existed in the ‘70s, but by the Reagan era, they were a guaranteed way to reach the top of the charts. They were the kid in the hallway offering you an answer key for the next test; sure, it wasn't in your nature, but you really, really wanted that "A."

"Hard Habit To Break," "You're The Inspiration," "Remember The Feeling" – these are the songs that define Chicago to the modern day audience. Heavy on the synths, heavy on the Cetera, and very, very light on the horns. The video for "...Inspiration" is one of my favorites from the era; of a seven member band, at least five are standing behind keyboards. It's not that the songs are blights against humanity; they may be sappy and saccharine, but there are genuine hooks to be found. But there isn't a unique quality amongst them (for the record, I recognize the potential hypocrisy inherent in such a statement when one examines my other Chicago reviews; my only defense is that with aging comes wisdom).

Back when I was a young man, I'm not ashamed to admit that I was a frequent user of Napster. I remember searching for songs like "Hard Habit To Break" and getting back dozens of results. Some said Chicago, some said REO, some said Foreigner and on and on. The point is that no one was confused as to who wrote a unique track, but a run-of-the-mill power ballad could legitimately be attributed to a variety of different artists and no one would really care to point out the difference.

There are people who would label bands like Chicago as traitors to their longtime fans. "Hey, this isn't why we started listening to you!" Yet there are the fans, lining up to buy the new record every single time. The question is, can you blame them? These are the musicians they love, the bands they grew up with. That tasty three second drum fill on the fourth album? They know those three seconds better than the biggest pop hit of the day. Could you really turn your back on them? After all, there are the live shows to hear the old stuff...

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2010 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 Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.