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Chicago VI

Columbia 32400
Released: July 1973
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 73
Certified Double Platinum: 11/21/86

What do you want? I'm giving everything I have,
I'm even trying to see if there's more.
Locked deep inside, I've tried.
Can't you see this in me.
What do you need? Is it someone just to hurt
So that you can appear to be smart?
To keep a steady job, play god?
What do you really know?
You parasite, you're dynamite
An oversight, misunderstanding what you hear
You're quick to cheer, and volunteer
Absurdities, musical blasphemies
Oh Lord, save us all.
-- "Critics' Choice"
Robert Lamm
Big Elk Music ASCAP © 1973

Walt ParazaiderTerry KathJim PankowPeter CeteraRobert LammMy sympathies to Mr. Lamm. As for the rest of the album, it should by now be clear that Chicago has become the primary prisoner of its own image. In trying so hard to act the role of the "hippest-dudes on the planet," they have only succeeded in caricaturing themselves through overbearing pledges of allegiance to the freak-flag of Hippiedom. It's sad that the group has yet to realize the correlation between their actions and the critical response they generate, but sadder still is the fact that many of the folks who chuckle at them haven't taken the time to differentiate between the group's right-on buffoonery and the music that accompanies it.

If they did, they'd find that they probably had Chicago pegged wrong all along. The Windy City boys may have tried to come on hipper-than-thou, but after their exceptional debut album their produce has in fact been strictly MORsville. Not that this should be taken as an excuse for shoddy musicianship, it's just that when people come to grips with where Chicago is really at musically, it's a lot easier to understand them.

Chicago - Chicago VI
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
Chicago VI contains two more-or-less outstanding commercial ditties, either of which would improve the average radio playlist a hundredfold. Terry Kath's "Jenny" is a real treat. Its simplicity is refreshing -- guitar, bass, drums and the pedal steel of J.G. O'Rafferty thrown in for good measure -- and the results are a complete success. An ethereal ballad about the love between man and dog, it's so straightforward that it transcends the corniness of the subject.

Peter Cetera's "In Terms of Two" is similarly successful, its major attraction being the youthful harp-blowing of an unidentified harmonicat. It gives direction to the song's otherwise mechanical rhythmic backing and serves as a focus for listener accessibility. Cetera's lyrical arrangement is commendable: He returns to the phrase "in terms of two" not out of repetition but as a restatement of the song's major theme. Once again it's the simple honesty of this song that pulls it through, a quality too much in absence from the rest of Chicago VI.

The other six songs are nearly indiscernable variations of what has by now come to be known as the "Chicago Formula." Pretentious "we gotta get it together" lyrics, muddled musical arrangements and a mix that lacks specific direction are rolled into a glib and slick package, that seems devoid of emotional involvement on the part of the band.

It's doubtful as to whether Chicago will ever return to playing the kind of music that graced their first album. Now that was progressive! So all you folks out there had might as well hunker down and get to know Chicago for what they really are -- a bunch of well-meaning guys who mean no harm to anyone. If they want to kid themselves about being anything other than rock & roll Doc Severinsens, it's fine with me. Take their music for what it's worth; after all, it's the middle of the road that makes the edges possible.

- Gordon Fletcher, Rolling Stone, 8/16/73.

Bonus Reviews!

Take away the capable arrangements (by the band) and the careful production (by James William Guercio) and what have you got here? Some of the dinkiest, banal "songs" since the last Chicago album. A song is the backbone of rock: a bad song is a weak bone, and it misshapes the body (arrangement, performance) or makes it meaningless.

But why is Chicago so popular? Well, in terms of technique they are a good band and their vocalists are acceptable. Maybe the band's success is based on snob appeal: the "intellectual" dignity of jazz combined with the chic of rock. Maybe it's because Chicago is almost the sole survivor of the "big-band" jazz/rock group boom of the late 1960s. What happened to the others? Illustration never got the promotional push that any recording group needs, the brilliant Dreams lacked a hit single, the Ides of March had a hit single, "Vehicle", but couldn't follow it up, and Blood, Sweat & Tears never successfully got past their second album (the only one produced by Guercio).

But Chicago is still with us. Again, I ask you, why? Maybe it's because rock fans tend to believe in certain groups the way voters believe in certain politicians; for rockers and voters alike their candidate can do no wrong. But sometimes rock bands, like politicians, use the dignity of their high office and the magic power of their emotional appeal to the electorate to disguise a lack of ideas or the peddling of nonsense. The electorate cheers anyway -- or, in Chicago's case, keeps buying a lots of albums. Not that Chicago is cynical; they believe they are making good, even significant, music. But they don't get my vote.

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 2/74.

This band continues to progress in terms of musical expansion. Once it was the first band in the shadow of Blood, Sweat and Tears, combining rock tempos with jazz solos. Now it has become more vocally oriented, offering a pastoral sound that leads into temporal solos. It's nice to hear the sound of the horns, of course, but they aren't overpowering. All instruments play with a controlled exuberance, but it is the strength of the ensemble singing that shines through. "In Terms Of Two" almost sounds like a Gilbert O'Sullivan inspirational effort, with a harmonica adding a new trill to the band's blowing abilities. Best cuts: "Feelin' Stronger Every Day," "Hollywood," "Just You 'N' Me."

- Billboard, 1973.

Chicago demostrates all its strength here, turning in one of its great ballads in "Just You 'N' Me" and one of its great rockers in "Feelin' Stronger Every Day." Elsewhere, the group takes on its negative reviews in "Critics' Choice" and acknowledges the impact of L.A. stardom on a bunch of Midwestern kids in "Something In This City Changes People." * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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