In the world of rock, Chicago was always the big band with the big sound, but from the late Eighties onward, members lost their musical guts. Fortunately the blood, sweat and brass that gives the group its bite and infectiousness is back in full force on NOW, Chicago’s first work of new material in eight years. Forgoing balladry for pure pep and punch, the album reflects a marvelously funkier band, while the group’s main vocalists strive for notes they hid in an attic 20 years earlier.
Bassist Jason Scheff still sounds uncannily like Peter Cetera but his vocal happiness spills all over the album’s title track. Backed by warm horns, co-leader Robert Lamm overcomes his raspy roar to meet him at the jubilant chorus.
There are sprinklings of the band’s earlier catalogue throughout the album. “More Will Be Revealed” recalls the interactive “We can make it happen” vocal play from “Dialogue (Part I & II)” of 1975. Always fond of nostalgia-laden tunes, Chicago seems to inject the slightest trace of “Old Days” into “America.” You’ll enjoy the slick “Crazy Happy” and the pointed horn blasts on Free At Last,” which could come straight out of the early catalogue of The Doobie Brothers. The tune also includes a mighty guitar solo worthy of the late Terry Kath, courtesy of guitarist Keith Howland.
“Naked in the Garden of Allah” is a strange detour as the group gets a little religious on us, but you’re sure to love the Middle Eastern flavor that envelops the song. This is also balanced out by the jazzy and cool closer “Another Trippy Day.”
Once upon a time. a seven-piece band turned the music charts and listeners upside down with its unique brand of jazz, soul, rock and horns. Lineups and tastes have changed since that time but with NOW, Chicago solidifies its legacy as one of the best bands ever to blast out of the airwaves, worthy of every accolade in the book.
– Ira Kantor