on July 8, 2014
Veteran rock giants Chicago, who haven't put out a full album since 2006's Chicago XXX, have approached their new album “NOW” in a way most indie bands are now doing it - on the cuff, in the true spirit of the moment. Their approach, through giving members actual producer credit (Walfredo Reyes, Jr. and Lou Pardini in particular), and also through their playing and helping in the process of creation only further showcases their need to create a "real-time" approach to their album, and believe me, it succeeds.
Lee Loughnane's on-the-road customized recording system called “the Rig” traveled with the band in the last year or so. The album itself was put together in pieces all over the world while they were on tour most of 2013, from Spokane to New Jersey and from many other places all over the world. Because of this, and because every band member was involved with it's production at one point or another, everyone received a “supervising producer” credit for their work.
Producer Hank Linderman, back at their home base, became the “coordinating producer” by taking every recording they made and pieced it all together, using a private online collaboration portal, which gave him the opportunity to "stitch" together everything, which must have been a monumental task, but once it all came together, this was the result, and I'll be the first to say it's as fresh as Chicago has ever sounded.
And, I must add, the wonderful horn section, often dulled or dimmed in past projects, is on fire on this album, and they are back strong! The winning combination of veterans Robert Lamm, Loughnane, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider and new member Lee Thornburg on trumpet only serves as a real compliment to Lamm's vocals and with many of the members contributing writing credits as well.
This is the Chicago of old in a wonderful shiny new package, and it's nothing short of phenomenal.
Here's my 1 minute review of each song as I heard , straight from the gut - 11 tracks at just over 50 minutes:
1. Now - Yes, the horns are back - finally! The world is crazy, but the music presented here is stronger than ever. Excellent vocals are featured here in this strong opener.
2. More Will Be Revealed - More horns, am I dreaming? A relationship only grows through shared experiences together. This song effortlessly gels the wondrous mission of making you feel good about doing just that.
3. America - there's nothing wrong with being patriotic, but there's also nothing wrong with being critical of it's leaders and what our real rights are. This is the first political song I've heard from them in YEARS, and I'm glad they have the strength to come around and see what they once were - a real voice for protest through music.
4. Crazy Happy - wonderful drum work by Tris Imboden on this song as the conflict of friends versus lovers plays out, and in the end the heart always knows best, and it is a crazy sometimes happy choice we have to make.
5. Free at Last - the horns are back in full swing again in a song written (and sung) by guitarist Keith Howland, Imboden, and singer Lamm, their joy at being "free at last" at being sober, finding love and the fulfillment of life itself sounds so - joyous! I'm really happy about this song too, it really marks the closest they have gotten since their aborted "lost" 1994 album "Stone of Sisyphus" the real magic of Chicago is highlighted here - excellent writing, tight musicality and quick tempo breaks, and oh yeah, a real happiness in their sound. This is one of the best tracks on the album!
6. Love Lives On - the first ballad of the album, and it's just great. Love lost, memories of what might have been, and memories of what is and could have been, too. The lyrics speak for themselves, "With or without people in it, the path it follows has no limit, in everything we do." This is really nice and easy, but jumps right into...
7. Something's Coming, I Know - It's karma, plain and simple. You give what you get, and this is just a warning, hope you're willing to heed it. Don't forget, it affects everyone around you, too. Very low key sound, nothing powerful, but Lamm's vocals are a surety that you're gonna find out if you keep sticking your hand in the fire.
8. Watching All the Colors - some people can smell colors, some people can see sound. This song brings those kinds of feelings out, of old sights and sounds and remembrances past. A very mellow song.
9. Nice Girl - Jason Scheff, songwriter and member since 1985 (and the replacement for Peter Cetera, good luck with that, Pete), showcases his writing here about a "nice girl" that deserves better, and pushing her boundaries might just push her away. A quick song, that goes right into...
10. Naked in the Garden of Allah - this Middle Eastern-influenced song borders on Madonna territory, but this is a good thing - sometimes you have to go into a different direction to re-establish your path. This song has been widely available as a preview for listening since it was released on their website since April 2013, and I'm going to put it out there - this is a very political song about America's perceptions about the rest of the world, and in turn the rest of the world's view of "artless, violent, poison, broken" America. Very interesting.
11. Another Trippy Day - producer and "mixologist" John Van Eps, who is famous (infamous?) for the polarizing 2012 album "Robert Lamm Songs: The JVE ReMixes" (a remix album of Lamm-penned Chicago songs? wow, check that out) not only helps out in the writing department, but also assists in transforming the last song on the album into quite the listening experience, and it seems a little off for an album that up until this point had such promise of being a complete winner for me. It seems out of touch with the feel of the rest of the album, but since Van Eps and Lamm are buddies, maybe there was something in the water that somehow allowed the rest of the band to let this stay? It's a real downer ending to the previous 10 songs, and I'm a bit disappointed with it. It just doesn't fit. Period.
(on the Japanese edition, there's a bonus track)
12 - Introduction (Live) - this was obviously recorded live, and has been their opening song for many dates over the last several years. A wonderful gel of drums, horns and vocals. It reminds me so much of the 1970's-era Chicago, with that perfect blend of what they're famous for.
So, in the end, despite the final song on the album, I will still give the new, now and improved Chicago 5 glorious stars.
How can I say thumbs down to infectious rhythms, great lyrics, and a classic horn section that I've been listening to since I was 10? (that was 40 years ago, folks... I know, I'm an oldie.) I say pick up a copy, because they can still re-invent the rock and adult contemporary wheel using 21st Century tech, and I'm all for it!
(Thanks for reading, and please don't forget to leave a comment or a vote if you're so inclined - also, please check out my other reviews right here on Amazon!)