Becky's Reviews of Chicago Albums CTA through 17
Release Date: 1979
Cover Design: Marina City (two round apartment towers in Chicago)
Proves Cover Theory?: One of the two best examples, the other being X
Becky Rating: III out of X
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
I've never met or talked to a Chicago fan who didn't have extreme views about unlucky Chicago 13. Some love it; most hate it with a passion or are embarassed by it. Until starting this project, I fell into the latter category, but now I rate it a little less harshly. Just a little.
Rather than give you a long story about how important this album was to me in 1979 when it was released, I'd rather just look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from the perspective of 2001.
*The cover. For those of you not familiar with the city of Chicago, this cover is a painting of the Marina City apartment buildings merged together in the shape of the Chicago logo. It's an amazing reproduction of the building, from the lower-floor parking garages to the actual marina in the river. You can even see the IBM building next door. Marina City is now the home of the Chicago branch of the House of Blues... but that's another story.
*Life Is What It Is, the Latin-pop song on the second side co-written by percussionist Laudir de Oliveira. Twenty years before Ricky Martin, Chicago made an attempt to include something with a real Latin sound without sounding silly or patronizing. De Oliveira also contributes some nice percussion on Street Player.
*The music tracks on much of this album. If you take away the lyrics, there's a lot of nice music here (particularly Mama Take and Must Have Been Crazy, both of which could have been a hit singles with better lyrics). Not ground-breaking music, not terribly exciting music, but not unpleasant music either.
*Street Player, the SONG. It's a well-written, well-sung song, with interesting lyrics, that would have made a nice four-minute single. Unfortunately, someone got the bright idea to put the extended club mix on the album. See below.
*Street Player, the ARRANGEMENT. First of all, the song is too fast. Slow this down to about the tempo of Too Hot by Kool and the Gang, and you've got a great song. Secondly, it's too long. Why are there TWO horn breaks plus TWO percussion breaks plus a Maynard Ferguson trumpet solo (Was Lee sick that day?) plus a needless, out of place guitar solo? Why does the end seem to go on for seven minutes?
*The lyrics. From the minute Cetera starts in on another one of his Oedipus-complex songs (Mama Take), through the total stupidity of Run Away, this album is awash in horrid, cliche-filled lyrics. A few samples: "Mama shake just a little bit, mama brake just a little bit;" "Gigs are fun, when they're done, feel so down, act like a clown;" "Dig your face, Lord it's real;" "Surfridin' sister I wanna taste your love, let's make it in the garden beneath the stars above." Only Robert Lamm seems to write coherently.
*Paradise Alley and Loser with a Broken Heart, two of the most unlistenable Chicago tracks ever. The former supposedly was rejected by Sylvester Stallone for the movie of the same name. I can see why!
*P.C. Moblee. Do you remember, before karaoke, there was always someone in your family or neighborhood who would try to do vocal impressions and not do them very well? Someone who would get up at a party and say "Here's how Frank Sinatra would sound singing a Led Zeppelin song" or "Here's Ronald Reagan doing his impression of Michael Jackson." Sure, it was funny once. Well, Peter Cetera obviously was so enamored of the sound of his own voice singing in a growly impression of God-knows-who that he recorded it and released it on his album. Folks, there is no such person as P.C. Moblee. It's Cetera singing in a lower register and making a total fool of himself in the process. Years later, Peter was quoted as saying, "P.C. Moblee died in a plane crash." If this isn't the most embarassing point in the entire recorded history of Chicago, I don't know what is.
Why does this dreck get a III rating from me? For the potential in Street Player; for one or two decent musical moments; for the Godfather outfits on the back cover; and for how important this album was to me in 1979 when it first came out. That III is generous, though. Things are spiraling out of control and will only get worse before they get better.
(c) 2001 Becky Banfield for Dos Gardenias Productions