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Chicago: Now (Chicago XXXVI)

Rock veterans return with their latest roman numeral

Chicago. Chicago. They’re a hell of a band. “If You Leave Me Now”, and, er, “If You Leave Me Now”…

Yes, Chicago are certainly most famous for that particular massive hit, number one for several weeks in late 1976, written and sung by Peter Cetera, and featuring such affectingly mournful brass that for a heady time it felt like the trombone was going to take over from the guitar as rock’s premier instrument. Sadly, just two years later, guitarist Terry Kath died, aged 31, having unwisely decided on a relaxing game of Russian Roulette with a semi-automatic pistol. His last words were “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded.”

This new album’s called Chicago XXXVI. That would be, give me a second here, their thirty sixth album, right?

That is correct. They started life in 1967 as the Chicago Transit Authority, formed, perversely enough, in Chaco, Illinois, before dropping the Transit Authority, after the bus company threatened legal action, imagining all kinds of potential confusion between a rock band and a bus station. Their line-up included Walter Parazaider, guitarist Kath, drummer Danny Seraphine, trombonist James Pankow, trumpet player Lee Loughnane, and keyboardist/singer Robert Lamm. They were a very different proposition back then; acid rock, given to free-form piano solos and Public Enemy-style exhortations such as “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?” they were considered pretty incendiary. Jimi Hendrix once told them, “Your guitar player is better than me.”

But then, as they aged, they softened up a bit. Happens, I suppose.

Certainly, they gradually took on more soulful hues and evolved as a result of numerous personnel shifts. But they never really lost their core political idealism.

And now a new album, Now. 36 albums, a 47 year old group… how good is it going to be? Not very, surely…

You’ll be pleasantly surprised. With founder members Lamm, Parazaider, Seraphine and Pankow still at the helm, it’s their first album of all-new compositions since 2006. It’s a well-orchestrated tour de-forces of rocky white soul, reminiscent of Earth, Wind And Fire in places with its brassy twists and funky turns, as well as rampant with old-school idealism of the “we’ve got to get together and get it together” on tracks like “America” and “Naked In The Garden Of Allah”.

Good. And I suppose it’s fair to predict that their next album will be called… again, give me a second here… Chicago XXXVII?

It’s a fair bet, yes. And who’s to say they won’t make it to Chicago L?

Huh?

  1. 50 albums. The boys have got juice in them yet.