The previous, recently issued 10-CD Chicago box covered the period 1969-1978, when they were on a hot streak (even Hendrix was moved to declare, “Jeez, your horn players are like one set of lungs and your guitar player is better than me”) and forging a reputation as one of the most powerful forces in American rock (only the Beach Boys top them in terms of chart success).
This set covers a far longer period, but can largely be summed up as The AOR Years. It would be easy to surmise that the death of founder member and creative mainstay Terry Kath, from an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1978, knocked them for six, but certainly they were never the same band again.
Chicago 13 (1979) had some of the jazz and R&B grit of yore, notably on the much-sampled Street Player, but, as the 80s loomed, Chicago were looking increasingly like a relic of the post-hippie countercultural era.
All credit to them, then, for adapting so purposefully to the changing times in the new decade, largely under the auspices of producer David Foster, who steered them towards soft-rock ballads and sterile bombast, as well as outside songwriters and session musicians.
But it would be hard to construct a convincing argument that they ever again came up with a song worthy of contention alongside, say, 25 Or 6 To 4, notwithstanding the huge commercial impact of the likes of Hard To Say I’m Sorry and so on, although it’s worth noting that the six-times platinum Chicago 17 (1984) outsold their 70s classics. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.