Monday, 26 November 2007

Double Trouble



Funny how reading other people’s blogs makes you reassess your own views, isn’t it? I’ve just been having a browse through Beckysisland where there is a whole section on the band Chicago with a wonderfully considered review on each of their multitude of albums – all called ‘Chicago’ funnily enough.

I’ll admit here and now to being a fully paid up member of the Chicago fan club, at least for those albums between 1969 and 1972 (I to V), as I love the melting pot of rampant guitar rock, brassy jazz and singalong pop they invoke on those early albums. Becky comes to the conclusion that the album ‘Chicago V’ is the best - their ‘Sgt. Pepper’ - and whilst my original assessment, made some thirty years ago, is that it is very good indeed, I wasn’t sure about this, so I ditched my distorted vinyl copy, bought it on remastered CD and re-listened to it. And you know what, she could be right? It is filled with immaculate playing, inventive, varied songs and compulsive rhythms.

BUT…whilst all the above is undoubtedly true, I can’t help hankering for the sprawling unpredictability of their first three double albums where ideas were allowed to over-reach themselves in all sorts of peculiar ways. ‘Chicago V’ is, unusually for them at that time, a single album and there is an overall feeling of compression and restriction about it. In some respects this is good as it distils ideas down to a concentrated nugget, but in other respects I can’t help feeling that guitarist Terry Kath was getting more and more frustrated as the album progressed that he wasn’t allowed to rampage around with one of those endlessly liquid solos. Or that what they really needed was a string quartet interlude.

This then got me thinking about, what in the days of vinyl, we called ‘double albums’. These were a breed of musical product that were universally derided as over-indulgent (especially if they were the dreaded live recording) and often described as a good single album with padding. But somehow, this doesn’t apply to the first three Chicago albums. It is as if the rule here should be reversed and that where Chicago is concerned, they should only produce double albums lest they be derided for chickening out with a measly single. Somehow, they just need the space, after all there were seven of them. That’s not to say that ‘V’ is not a great album, because it is, but I’d put it on a par with ‘II’, my first love, where at least three of the four sides are essential.

Am I allowed two CDs on my desert island?

10 comments:

Semiquaver said...

don't take cd's...all you need is your old guitar and a fake book!

musicobsessive said...

Funnily enough, I do own an old book of Chicago sheet music, so you're SO right - what was I thinking!!

Thanks for stopping by - I must have alook at your blog, it promises to be a good read.

Charlie said...

Becky's Chicago reviews are among the best on the web. She has a great writing style that is both informative and enjoyable. You may also be interested in my Chicago reviews from The Terry Kath era.

musicobsessive said...

Spot on Charlie! Becky's reviews are excellent. I'll take a look at your link when I have a few minutes.

TR1-Guy said...

Oh, I have to agree with you on this one. Chicago's output after the fifth album was more and more hit singles then progressive rock of their early albums. I love the first album. Good songs, and a fair share of hit singles, and some great jams. I love "Southern California Purples" not just for its great bass, but how great Terry Kath really was on his solos. His passing just ended Chicago as they were. And Chicago's double albums were the rare treat in that you could listen to all the songs and sides without feeling like you'd been ripped off by the double album price tag! :)
The exception was Chicago X which was a very strong album regardless of Peter Cetera's ballads. PLus, I love the cover (chocolate bar!).

musicobsessive said...

Hi Byron
Interestingly, Beckysisland doesn't much like Chicago X, but I'd bailed long before that appeared so I might hunt it down and give it a listen and see who's right! And who can resist chocolate?

TR1-Guy said...

Well, back in the day, the reason I bought the Chicago X was of Terry Kath's rocker "Once or Twice" (sample it on iTunes). So, of course you had to buy the album to get that one song, but I cut most of my albums to either cassette or reel back then (to save the vinyl of course!) But it is a good album. Not like CTA or II, but good solid music for most of the album (except for "If You Leave Me Now" which still turns my stomache..) You probably can guess I'm not much on rock groups doing the sappy ballads. Few pull it off (Bon Jovi is a good exception to this rule).

musicobsessive said...

Yeah, the only example of a good ballad I can think of is Deep Purple's 'When a Blind Man Cries'.
I could probably think of some more given enough time, but good ones are a bit few and far between.

Pokey said...

Cjicaho's first tfive years are the best iMO.I own the first two albums.[first one, of course, Chicago Transit Authority, but no longer called that, thank YOU Richard Daley!!]

S.Carras

music obsessive said...

Hi Pokey! You're so right - the first five years were the best. I do nurge you to try III and V as well.