Chicago makes belated return to recording, but far from the traditional studio setting

Chicago has gone ages without a new album — but technology, and a willingness to play it by ear, are helping the veteran classic rockers get back on track.

In a new interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, co-founding keyboardist Robert Lamm says the band set up computers with Pro Tools and recorded in hotel conference rooms while on the road this summer with the Doobie Brothers — completing a “bunch of songs” in just a few months.

That’s great news for fans of Chicago, a formerly prolific group which issued at least one album every single year from 1969 through ’82, but has put out just one record filled with original songs since 1991 — XXX back in 2006. Two years later, Chicago released XXXII: Stone of Sisyphus, but that song-cycle was comprised of work put to tape back in the early 1990s.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: For a special edition of Gimme Five, we explored the times when Chicago, unfortunately, just didn’t make us smile – in a list that spans from ‘XIII’ through ‘Twenty 1.’]

Lamm himself earlier tried to spark the group’s waning creative fires with a suggestion that producer John Van Eps rework some of Chicago’s best-known tunes, but he received a lukewarm response. Lamm eventually handed some of his own work over to Van Eps, including a handful of Chicago-era songs, and released it as The JVE Remixes earlier this year.

This summer’s round of shows with the Doobie Brothers, however, seems to have finally reinvigorated the band. Rather than waiting until they could book studio time, however, Chicago decided to seize the moment.

“We’re essentially trying to record with 96-bit technology and all of the latest gear that we’re traveling with,” Lamm told Matt Wardlaw. “When there’s a couple of days off, we can set the stuff up in a conference room in a hotel and not make too much noise. We have a coordinating producer who is an engineer, who basically takes the tracks and makes sense of them.”

Lamm said it would likely be another half year or so before the band has finished sorting through the songs they’ve already tracked. Chicago will likely issue the resulting project — Lamm says there may be more than dozen songs — as a downloadable album initially, then perhaps later as a physical product.

Chicago is without a label deal, after recording for Columbia through 1981 and then Full Moon through 1991’s Twenty 1.

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Chicago. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

GIMME FIVE: SONGS WHERE CHICAGO, WELL, SUCKED: It would be easy enough to fill this list with songs from Chicago’s turn-of-the-1990s slickster years. And just as easy to heap scorn on their post-Terry Kath slump in the late 1970s. Instead, we did both. Presenting the times when Chicago simply didn’t make us smile … the times when their music made us feel sicker every day … the times when we were wishing they weren’t there … OK, you get the picture: Here are the times when Chicago, well, sucked.

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: DRUMMER DANNY SERAPHINE, FORMERLY OF CHICAGO: A group co-founder, Seraphine had been in two prior groups with eventual Chicago saxophonist Walt Parazaider and guitarist Terry Kath. Together with trombonist James Pankow, trumpet player Lee Loughnane, keyboardist Robert Lamm and bassist Peter Cetera, they helped establish a muscular improvisational amalgam in the early 1970s. After the untimely death of Kath, inarguably the very soul of Chicago, it was Seraphine who brought in producer David Foster, a new management team and R&B-soaked singer Bill Champlin – moves that hurtled the band to superstardom in the 1980s, even as it fundamentally shifted the group’s sound towards a more commercial bent.

SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: CHICAGO: ans of their initial music could be forgiven for barely recognizing Chicago by the 1980s, as fussy power ballads eventually flushed out the band’s signature horn sound. A group that had built its reputation on organic experimentation, a kind of prog-fusion that earned heavy rotation on a then-new FM radio format, never returned to the album-length suites that once defined it. Well, we have. Often. Travel back now, to those thrilling days of roman numerals and Terry Kath. Here are five hand-picked sides, from their pre-guilty pleasure era.

FORMER CHICAGO MEMBER BILL CHAMPLIN ON “HARD HABIT TO BREAK,” “AFTER THE LOVE IS GONE,” OTHER SONGS: On this special edition of Something Else! Reviews’ One Track Mind, we hand the reins over former Chicago singer and keyboardist Bill Champlin. He talks about Grammy-winning tracks “Turn Your Love Around” and “After the Love Has Gone,” his contributions to Chicago, working with Toto, and how lounge-singer Robert Goulet almost got one of his gigs.

Something Else!

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Perplexio

    After the departure of Bill Champlin, what little interest I still had for this band has been extinguished. I still love their old material but I just can’t muster any enthusiasm for their current or future endeavors…. I greeted this news with a yawn.