Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., Aug. 15, 2003
ChicagoThe Box (Rhino) If Chicago had broken up after guitarist Terry Kath accidentally shot and killed himself in 1978, a beaming reappraisal of their 1969-1977 output would've occurred long ago. Groups like Electric Flag may have done "horn rock" first, but Chicago fully extrapolated its genre-bending creative potential into reality. This 5-CD/single-DVD set covers Chicago's 36-year history exhaustively and unflinchingly. The band's early albums drew on pop, rock, jazz, blues, and classical idioms, and while this expansive pallete occasionally resulted in soporific grandiosity, selections like "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon" (from which "Make Me Smile" and "Colour My World" were excerpted) brought their ambition into fruitful focus. The underrated Kath played with Hendrix-like incandescence on "South California Purples," "Listen," and "Poem 58," which should've made the cut, but whose omission is rectified by the inclusion of Kath's "An Hour in the Shower" suite. Initially revered on free-form radio, Chicago evolved into a soft rock linchpin with effervescent hits like "Saturday in the Park" and "Call on Me." Kath showcased his Ray Charles baritone one last time with the poignant "Little One." Chaka Khan guested on "Take Me Back to Chicago," a soulful, foreboding tune that closed the first half of Chicago's career. The second half got off to a precarious start with three straight forgettable albums, the group regaining its commercial footing with '82's "Hard to Say I'm Sorry." Bassist Peter Cetera's soaring tenor made him the go-to vocalist for ballads like "You're the Inspiration," but Chicago continued having hits even after his departure in '85. These songs were standard slow dance fare whose maudlin overorchestration and reliance on synthesizer flourishes now make them sound as dated as Nagel prints. Die-hard Chi-fans will appreciate three tracks from '92's unreleased Stone of Sisyphus, in which Chicago attempted to recapture their early ambition with fair-to-middling success. Ditto for the DVD, which features a four-song performance from '72 and a Devo-like promotional film for '79's execrable Chicago 13. Most can make do with last year's best-of collection, but those who've hoarded Chicago vinyl from garage sales like a dirty little secret will appreciate this thoughtful, fleshed-out overview.