Chicago 18


Full Moon Records, 1986

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


This is probably one of those reviews that I shouldn't write. See, everybody -- or at least most rock critics and Chicago fans -- knows that Chicago 18, the CD that replaced Peter Cetera with Jason Scheff (his genetic clone, grown in a basement in Northwestern University's biology building), is a poor imitation of real, classic Chicago, and hardly worth our time to review. However, being the Don Quixote of music reviews, single-handedly tilting at critical windmills in all genres, I'm going to throw life, limb, and reason to the winds…

…and dare to disagree.

Fact is, Chicago 18 has some really, really nice moments, if you're a fan of either Chicago's horn-drenched sound or '80s pop music. There is no ground broken here; this is not a CD that musicology majors will be discussing in grad-level seminars fifty years from now. But damn it, it's not that bad, either; it's certainly not the offense against nature that some seem to make it out to be.

Musically, Chicago doesn't miss a step. Yes, Jason Scheff sounds eerily like Peter Cetera, but one supposes that's why he was hired, no? (The fact that he looks something like Cetera and plays the same instrument we'll put down to synchronicity or alien plots.) Robert Lamm and Bill Champlin are, as always, two of the most reliable vocalists in rock music history, capable of ethereal, amazing harmonies -- and my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 18 is chock-full of them (as a harmony junkie, "If She Would Have Been Faithful" gives me goosebumps). Danny Seraphine's drumming is more prominent than on past Chicago recordings, and it really punches up the music; more on this in a moment. David Foster's production and Humberto Gatica's engineering are formulaic '80s perfection; you either like the crisp, gated sound or you don't, but you can't fault the execution.

That leaves the songwriting. Some of it is pretty good -- yes, we all heard "Will You Still Love Me?" repeatedly, but damn it, it's not a bad love song. "Niagara Falls" despite its punny cliché refrain, is well done. "Over And Over" has some great visual imagery in the lyrics, and "It's Alright" is one of those songs that makes you want to get really big hair and go cruising in your daddy's Chrysler LeBaron convertible. (If your daddy didn't have one, that's not my problem; use your imagination.)

There are, however, a few clunkers. Robert Lamm's vocals can't save "Forever"; its lyrics limp like a dog who lost a fight with a subway train. "I Believe" and "One More Day" are so optimisti-eighties they make my new-millennium cynicism go into insulin shock.

Then, of course, there's the re-recording of "25 or 6 to 4."

Chicago fans rioted in the streets over this one. (Guess it's the lack of professional sports championships -- all that energy has to go somewhere, said the Cubs fan ruefully.) It was heresy, apparently, and one expected Tomas de Torquemada to be called into play. Somewhere, carved on a stone tablet, is the Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Change Thine Own Classic Song.

Three words: get over it.

The new version of "25 or 6 to 4," in a word, rocks. It takes a slow, droopy, druggy seventies track with slurred vocals and turns it into one of those songs that you turn up REALLY LOUD so you can catch the buzz. (The lyrics still don't make sense, but you can't have everything).

In short, Chicago 18 is nowhere as near as bad as many Chicago fans make it out to be. There are even moments where it's downright…well, not quite brilliant, but very good. Fans of Chicago, eighties power pop, David Foster, or nostalgia should give it another -- or a first -- listen.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2004 Duke Egbert 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 Full Moon Records, and is used for informational purposes only.