Every time Chicago puts out a new album, a listeners is a apt to experience a vague sense of deja vu. By now, the bands formulas are so automatic that every song sounds like every other one.
Initially, Chicago (then known as the Chicago Transit Authority) used brass arrangements better than any other band in rock, Admittedly, in 1970, Blood, Sweat & Tears was the only othe group using horns regularly, but let's give credit where credit is due. In its second album, Chicago established all its patterns for future effors in successes like Make Me Smile," "Twenty-five or Six to four, and Color My World." Now, nine albums later. Chicago is doing exactly what it did seven years ago.
Not that this automatically categories the grpears ago.
Not that this automatically categories the group as a tossil Far from it. Chicago has stuck with its formulas primarily because those ingredients are popular at least that's the reason we'd like to believe. Also though it may sound trite, what Chicago does musically is what it does best - limited or not. Many imitations (Chase, Lighthouse, Ides of March, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] infinitum) have had a hit or two but generally fallen on their collective faces attempting to ride the same wave.
So what we have in Chicago's latest release is essentially the same old song and whether it works depends on whether Chicago's previous ten albums worked. If we use "work" in a commercial sense, the answer is yes - musically, it"workds" sometimes.
"Chicago XI" (Columbia JC 3-4860) is not as good as Chicago II" or "Chicago X" or even "Chicago's Greatest Hits," also known as "Chicago IX," probably so people would not be confused by the lack of a Roman numeral.
There are two strong cuts and three reasonable ones on side one but side two is flaccid. Maybe even Chicago has to run out of gas sometimes.
"Baby, What a Big Surprise" features Beachboy Carl Wilson backing up Pete Cetera's vocal. This one is reminiscent of "Wishing You Were Here" but it has more bite and a less misty arrangement. "Policeman" has an irresistable Latin percussion underside and a tasteful horn arrangement by James Pankow accompanying Robert Lamm's sensitive vocal.
"Take Me Back to Chicago," a paean to the group's roots which includes Rutus' Chaka Khaps supporting vocal, could well be the theme for "The Bob Newhart Show." "Till the End of Time" is a tongue-in-cheek fifties rocker, while "Mississippi Delta City Blues" is springly but sounds like sanitized Sly and the Family Stone.
Side two puts "Takin' It Uptown" and
his Time" in the plus column and tacks up some big minuses, including more than nine minutes of "Little One" complete with an orchestral prelude that makes you cry for the old formulas again. After the first thirty seconds of totally unnecessary strings, it is obvious why Chicago usually sticks to basics.
The personnel is the same, the producer (James William Guerdo) is the same, the album's logo is take a digit. So, if you liked Chicago before, you will probably like Chicago again. If not, don't expect any surprises from "Chicago XI."