Chicago V


Warner Brothers, 1972

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Three double albums in three years is a Herculean amount of work for any band, even one with seven members and multiple songwriters. So after the 1971 tour for Chicago III, the band decided to scale back a bit on their fourth studio album (and fifth overall). The result is a streamlined Chicago sound that trims away most of the long solos and improvisational/jazzy bits in favor of concise pop-rock-jazz tunes.

“A Hit By Varese” is not completely representative of this approach, mind you; it’s only five minutes, but it packs a lot of left turns, bonkers horn solos, some gonzo Peter Cetera basslines, and a completely original approach. It’s one of the best Chicago songs you haven’t heard from the band’s early days, but it’s also one of the few times the band would go down this road from here on out.

More representative are pleasant-sounding pieces like “All Is Well,” “Goodbye,” “Alma Mater,” and “Dialogue Pt. 1,” the latter sounding like a template for every hit song the Doobie Brothers would write from 1973-1976. “Dialogue Pt. 2” and “Now That You’ve Gone” are mostly instrumental rockers, not offering anything really new but adding to the overall feel of the album with typically strong entries. The second part of “Dialogue” concludes with a “We can make it happen” chant that is typical of the politics of the early ‘70s…which is to say, it’s a tad corny, but it may make certain people smile.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Actually, because Robert Lamm wrote eight of the 10 songs here, there’s a slight political bent to several of the songs, but they hit a little harder because of the focus on the song and not so much on the instrumental wizardry, as on the solid “While The City Sleeps” and “Dialogue.” Of course, most every Chicago album had at least one knockout hit single, and this one was “Saturday In The Park,” an innocuous bit that became the band’s biggest hit to that point. There also are swaths of funk scattered throughout the disc, as on the political “State Of The Union,” which fuses a dirty chorus/verse with an overlong, scattershot solo that threatens to derail the piece.

The expanded edition of the disc offers a couple of choice nuggets for Chicago fans, including the studio version of “A Song For Richard And His Friends,” a skronky instrumental led by some ugly free-form guitar that morphs into a blues riff halfway through. The band would add some political (Richard being Nixon) vocals when playing live, but hearing Terry Kath’s original ideas for the piece is interesting. An early version of “Mississippi Delta City Blues” also appears, a piece the band would vastly improve a couple of years later, and then a single edit of “Dialogue” is here in case you’re in a hurry and only have five minutes to listen to the song instead of seven.

The short answer is that Chicago V essentially distills the long-form prog-jazz-pop-rock of the first three albums into digestible chunks with one great single, one great album track and a number of songs that either make no impact or sound like retreads – albeit good ones – of songs that have come before. In many ways, this is the beginning of the band slowly starting to phase out its old sound for a newer, friendlier approach. It’s not a great record, but it has enough to recommend it to Chicago fans digging deeper into the vast back catalog.

Rating: C+

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