Becky's Reviews of Chicago Albums, CTA through 17
Release Date: 1980
Cover Design: Thumbprint
Proves Cover Theory?: Yes
Becky Rating: III out of X
It says a lot about Chicago XIV that the best song recorded at the XIV sessions - Robert Lamm's new-wave sounding Doin' Business - was left off the album! You can find it on the Group Portrait box set if you really want to hear it that badly.
1980 was not a good time to be a Chicago fan, or a member of Chicago either. While Hot Streets had been a modest success, and 13 had its moments, by this time the band was struggling to keep itself relevant in a world of New Wave, funk, and lite-rock. Chicago XIV was not the way to do that!
A lot of what went wrong on 13 shows up again on XIV. The songs are for the most part uninteresting, with stupid lyrics ("Want you to know, I'm a man, say the words and I'll say it again"...well duh, Peter! "Now announcing the touchdown of the flight, it's right on time"...how a traveling musician could write that is beyond me! "Hey, maybe I could take her home, You never know what could happen when we're both alone"...again, duh, Peter!). Horn parts just stuck into the songs for no reason other than to prove it's Chicago. Too many Cetera ballads - the first side has four in a row! I'm asleep before it's over! Finally on the album's closing cut, The American Dream, they sound bored and tired, certainly not the same young men who railed at the Nixon administration ten years earlier.
The album does, to its credit, sound like 1980. The opening cut, Manipulation, sounds like something off of Billy Joel's Glass Houses album, and features some New Wave guitar. Overnight Cafe interpolates some of the reggae sounds that the Police were recording at the time. Thunder and Lightning has a little bit of a Joe Jackson feel to it. This is the first Chicago album with a lot of synthesizers - check out the synths on Birthday Boy which sound like a space alien's interpretation of a Beatles song. It's really, really creepy, but it does scream 1980.
So many questions remain. Why did Peter write such wimpy songs on the first side, then open the second with Hold On, a screaming rocker? Why does he sing with the uncredited P.C. Moblee voice on Song For You? Who allowed Birthday Boy and Song For You to ever make it to vinyl in the first place? Why did James Pankow sneak a Star Spangled-Banner reference into the arrangement of The American Dream, then end it with a nonsensical coda that lyrically has nothing to do with the point of the song? Why is Pankow writing the socially aware lyric? Why did Robert finally throw in the social responsibility towel and admit I'd Rather Be Rich (this song was very funny to me at the time - long story)? What happened to Donnie Dacus? Where's Laudir de Oliveira (he was on the 1980 tour)? Why did my 1979-80 ears interpret most of Robert's songs as being love songs, while my 2001 ears hear the lyrics as being about the band?
Originally, I rated this album a II, but I gave it an extra point for its then-contemporary sound. I wonder if, had they worked on it more and chose more interesting songs, if a different Chicago XIV would have been more successful? Or were they just burned out anyways after nearly ten years of non-stop touring and recording? I think the latter. We'll see a change on 16.
Thanks to Courtney (OH) for the tape!
(c) 2001 Becky Banfield for Dos Gardenias Productions