It’s been a journey and it ain’t over yet. Known as the “rock and roll band with horns” Chicago are back with their latest album release Chicago XXXVI: Now. Chicago has nothing to prove at this stage of their career having sold more than 40 million units in the U.S alone over 5 decades so why the the effort to put out new music? Many groups who are far from their hey day still do, bands like America and Earth Wind & Fire who have toured with Chicago have released new material in the last 3 or 4 years. No matter what it is as long as it has the band name on it people have to have it and as long as it sounds like Chicago then whats the problem?
The album titled track Now has all the ingredients you would find in a Chicago classic. Big horn arrangements that feature throughout the song, multiple transitions from verse to chorus and you can’t forget the distorted guitar solo that leads into the final extended chorus. Nothing new here but it’s everything we would expect from them.
America is a patriotic anthem; its lyrics encouraging the American people to fight the powers that be and unite for the common good. It is a little bit cheesy with lyrics like “America, America is free, America is you and me”. I’m not sure who is running for president in the band but it would be the perfect campaign song.
It’s nice when a song catches you off guard and offers unexpected enjoyment. Free At Last really mixes it up with its high energy rock driven chorus and slow jazz fusion verses. It takes you on a roller coaster ride right to the end where the guitar solo and horns blast through the speakers to finish the job and leave you wanting to see them live.
I wouldn’t classify Chicago as Dance music but they venture outside their usual comfort zones in Something’s Coming, I Know. It has a funky guitar rhythm with the horns accenting the rhythm of the song. The chorus has a electronic dance feel to it that sits nicely with the songs structure. Everyone in the band is in sync making for a tight performance topped off by Lamm’s classy vocals.
It isn’t the most stunning or creatively unique collections that Chicago has ever made but it showcases their current writing material quite well. There is a genuine pleasure in writing music which emanates from every section of the group and I don’t think that will stop with these guys. The horns never seem to get old as they constantly re-invent catchy arrangements and have a smooth blend that makes them shine in these new recordings. I’m sure one or two of these songs would make their live set and while its a decent effort for the rock veterans, you would still rather listen to the classics if given the choice.