It would appear that, after two whole decades of the legendary rock band with horns trying to make another great album, Chicago might finally be on to something.
A little background: back in 1993, the band had grown so tired of making formulaic pop records stacked with ballads by outside writers that they embarked upon a project to complete a truly organic and expressive record called Stone of Sisyphus. When Chicago’s label at the time, Reprise, rejected the record and dropped the band from their roster, all hopes had been lost that another truly great Chicago album of all original material would materialize (the record did finally see release in 2008 as Chicago XXXII: Stone of Sisyphus, albeit with one key track omitted).
Granted, there were plenty of almost-there moments, but that was about it.
In 1995, the band released a big band covers record called Night & Day. It was the first record to be so self-consciously brass-centric and uniquely Chicago since the 1970s. It had marquee names in guest roles (Aerosmith’s Joe Perry playing lead guitar on “Blues In The Night,” Paul Shaffer playing piano on “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”), but as there were no new original songs on the record, it didn’t quite gain the reputation it deserved.
In 1998, the band released their first ever Christmas album, again with that signature Chicago sound dominating the proceedings. This record actually became a big success, going gold and spawning a re-release with 6 new songs and a full-fledged sequel (Chicago XXXIII: O Christmas Three) in 2011, but the novelty of Christmas songs does not a reputation-saving album make. The guaranteed seasonal sales do help, though.
In 2003, principal singer/pianist/songwriter Robert Lamm released a solo album titled subtlety&passion. It very quickly became a fan favorite for its very deliberate inclusion of nearly every then-current member of Chicago in either prominent or guest roles, and it even utilized a previously unreleased guitar solo by Chicago’s late original guitarist, the great Terry Kath. It was a Chicago album in all but name, hearkening back to the same spirit that resulted in the first seven Chicago albums, and the sole compromise Lamm was able to wring out of his long-time bandmates for a full-fledged album of creative and expressive material.
In 2006, the band finally gave in and tried making another all-new album of original material, Chicago XXX. The results were mixed at best. While the second half of the record contained some strong, highly enjoyable material (the best of which came from the now ex-Chicago member Bill Champlin), the first half was stacked with cynically crafted schmaltzy ballads that did nothing to restore faith in Chicago’s trailblazing reputation of the 1960s and 1970s.
Which brings us to 2013. Yesterday, Lamm posted clips of two demos that he is calling a “preview” of “future Chicago album tracks.” These tracks, joy of joys, resemble less of the overwrought tendencies of XXX and more of the inspired writing that resulted in subtlety&passion.
Could that new Chicago album that can stand tall with their best material finally be coming? Listen and judge for yourself: