Chicago 19


Full Moon Records, 1988

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Oh, I’m sure it was fun for a while. Rescued from the depths of obscurity, thrust back onto the top of the charts, experiencing levels of success not seen in years! How could one not want the good times to keep coming, to let the champagne continue to flow! But somewhere along the way, they crossed a line that they could never return from... (it’s fun to read this paragraph in Don LaFontaine’s voice).

Chicago cannot be blamed for continuing their run of ’80s inspired mediocrity; letting the spotlight go is difficult. What I can blame them for is delivering a string of average to terrible albums from 1986-1991. The pinnacle of the group’s resurgence came with Chicago 17, an album full of schlock, to be sure, but well-produced and memorable schlock. Had they decided at that point to perhaps return to their roots, there was still a chance for success. But instead, they traveled further down the rabbit hole.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Chicago 18 had its moments, but the fatigue was already starting to settle in. Peter Cetera’s departure was a tremendous blow for the band. He was a legitimate talent and a damn fine songwriter. Replacement Jason Scheff could emulate Cetera well enough, but he has never inspired much faith in his own talents. Original members Robert and Lamm and Jimmy Pankow were still stuck in a songwriting quagmire, and their contributions were meager at best. So, facing this scenario, Chicago entered back into the studio to record Chicago 19.

Methinks this is where the band decided to give Bill Champlin a shot at being the “star.” After all, he had success before joining Chicago and it had been years since Chicago had a vocalist capable of any sort of grit. Thus, the two biggest hits from 19 (“I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love” and “Look Away”) come courtesy of Mr. Champlin. Fine songs for a Richard Marx type, but when it comes to a Chicago song, they are failures, synth-drenched keyboard fests with the huge sound and overwrought lyrics that sound like they were written by Diane Warren. (Oh, wait...they both were? Ouch.)

In the ’70s, Chicago was genuinely capable of making rock music: “25 Or 6 To 4,” “Dialogue,” “South California Purples,” etc. Their attempts at doing the same on Chicago 19 are bereft of soul and passion, two things that generally are positive attributes for musicians to have. A huge part of the problem stems from outside collaborators: it’s ridiculous that this particular group had to seek this outside help to write an album. “Heart In Pieces” is the first song on the album, and the liner notes don’t show a single person from the band who had a hand in writing it. This is the band whose first THREE albums were double LPs, and had already amassed hit after hit. It is so very clear that this was a tired band that did not have much left to give except playing out the circuit in casinos and state fairs. And look at that, that’s exactly what happened.

It is hard to believe but Chicago 19 is not the nadir for the group from the Windy City; Chicago 21 earned that title fair and square. But just because Chicago followed up a bad album with a terrible one doesn’t make 19 any better. Look away, just look away.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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