Chicago – Chicago II (1970; 2017 Steven Wilson Remix)

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I’ve been a Chicago fan for over half of my life. While admittedly it was the second wave of Chicago’s success that caught my ear, I likely would have moved on to other music had I not inevitably discovered the brilliance of their earlier material.

I remember the sense of wonder as I listened to each of those initial albums for the first time. But the one thing I found odd was the production on 1970’s Chicago II. Compared to their debut, Chicago III, V … heck, just about their entire catalog, Chicago II sounded “muddy.” I couldn’t understand why such wonderful music would be allowed to be released with such production, especially when compared to how crisp and bright the rest of their albums sounded. And I felt this way even with young and admittedly untrained ears.

Every time a new mix of the album was announced, I hoped that this latest remix would finally be the one that would bring out the best in the brilliant music that was buried under that “muddy mix.” And, unfortunately, time after time I was disappointed …. until now.

When I heard that Steven Wilson was going to be remixing Chicago II, I was instantly excited. Wilson plays on and is the focal point of two albums I have tremendous respect for: Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia and his solo album The Raven That Refused to Sing. Steven Wilson doesn’t just make music; he’s more of an aural painter. He constructs beautiful aural soundscapes for the eardrums of his listeners. Needless to say, my expectations were high.

Listening to Wilson’s remix of Chicago II is like hearing the album for the first time all over again. Things that were buried in the mix before, leap out and make the listener take notice. Danny Seraphine’s drumming that previously sounded like it had been recorded in a cardboard box suddenly popped (as it had/has on other Chicago albums). A lot of Terry Kath’s rhythm guitar flourishes are much more noticeable than ever before. Some of Robert Lamm’s piano that was previously buried in the mix is now decidedly more noticeable – and the vocals … oh, the vocals! They are so much smoother and cleaner, they sound like they were recorded yesterday, not years ago.

I will concede that the improvements to the mix are more noticeable on some tracks than on others. “In the Country,” “Fancy Colours,” and surprisingly the entire “Memories of Love” suite sound the most improved vs. prior versions of this album – or so I thought initially.

Then I heard what Steven Wilson had done to “It Better End Soon,” and I was blown away. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. While there’s not a single song on the album that doesn’t sound improved on this mix, “It Better End Soon” to me is the most noticeable. I heard more in this song that I’d never heard before than on any other song on the album.

If Steven Wilson can do this for Chicago II, I’d love to hear how he would improve other albums in Chicago’s catalog. So, Mr. Wilson, “where do we go from here?”

Perplexio

Perplexio

Perplexio also maintains a stand-alone blog called The Review Revue, where he explores music, movies and books. He spearheaded 'Saturdays in the Park,' our weekly multi-writer, song-by-song series focused on the music of Chicago. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelse reviews.com.
Perplexio
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  • Zethran

    Great review, and I agree with everything you said! As a fan of both Chicago and Steven Wilson, this was a huge thing for me as well. To quote, “I’ve been a Chicago fan for over half of my life. While admittedly it was the second wave of Chicago’s success that caught my ear, I likely would have moved on to other music had I not inevitably discovered the brilliance of their earlier material.” – sounds a lot like me. I grew up hearing Chicago’s music in the 80’s, but when my dad played me their older material on vinyl when I was twelve, I was forever changed. I think a lot of Chicago’s other albums sound pretty good, but III and V could certainly get a little more love.

    • perplexio

      Thank you, Zethran. BTW, I took a peak at your Disqus profile and noticed that in addition to being a Chicago fan, you’re also a Whovian. I am as well. I was never into the classic Doctor Who. I suppose I should go back and give it a watch. When Matt Smith came on board, I started watching it on Netflix (before Netflix lost the broadcast rights to Amazon) starting with Eccleston. I got caught up towards the end of Smith’s run. My favorite Docs have been Eccleston and Capaldi. While I thoroughly enjoyed Smith’s work with Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond and Arthur Darvill’s Rory after they left, it felt as if he was just phoning it in. And while I LOVE Tenant’s work as the Doctor, he played the Doctor almost too human. The whole point of the Doctor needing companions is to give them balance so they hang onto their humanity. Tenant’s Doctor was the only one to bring me to tears (in the “Being Human” episode and also with his Regeneration) but he didn’t need a human, he was so in touch with his humanity.

      Both Eccleston and Capaldi played/play the Doctor with a certain level of menace bubbling under the surface. They NEED a companion to give them that balance. I appreciate that in them. Between Eccleston and Capaldi I’d give an edge to Capaldi but only because he’s played the Doctor longer than Eccleston did. I was disappointed that we only got 1 season of Eccleston, I would have liked to have seen what he could have done had he been the Doctor longer than that.

      I’ve gone WAAAY off topic though! CTA, XI, Hot Streets, and 16 have long been my favorites. I’m the youngest of 6 kids. The youngest of my older brothers was a senior in high school when I was in Kindergarten. He was listening to Chicago 16 and 17 A LOT (and a healthy amount of Survivor, Toto, J. Geils Band, Journey, Loverboy, and others of that era). I was young and impressionable and it stuck… boy did it ever stick!

      • Zethran

        Doctor Who fans can go on for hours talking about who their favorite and least favorite Doctor and companions are. 🙂 I’m a fan of the classic series (probably note my Tom Baker costume), but I started watching the show on Netflix around the same time you did, starting with Eccleston and catching up around series 7. I’ve liked all of the new Doctors fairly equally, though Matt Smith is actually my favorite! I agree that the 10th Doctor was a little too human, but I guess that’s part of his charm and uniqueness. Just as long as people don’t think that’s how the Doctor is *always* supposed to be. It worries me a bit that people now seem to think the Doctor needs to look young and handsome and have some kind of love interest. I’ll miss Peter Capaldi, but I’m excited for everything changing after next season.

        The first three and VII will always be tops for me. I have to admit that Hot Streets is probably one of my least favorites. It doesn’t help that the sound quality is terribad. Sounds like you’re about the same age as me, I was also in Kindergarten/1st Grade when Chicago 17 was popular.

        • perplexio

          I thought Matt Smith was brilliant with Karen Gillan. I don’t think he had any chemistry with Jenna Coleman and it kind of felt like he was phoning it in after Gillan left the show. I actually LOVED the chemistry between Capaldi and Coleman.

          Most of my memories of early childhood revolve around music. When I was 2-3 years old I’d wander into my older sister’s bedroom. She would have been a sophomore or junior in high school at the time. And I’d ask her to play her 8-track of Billy Joel’s “The Stranger.” I also remember being a big fan of Toto’s “Rosanna” when I was in kindergarten and 1st grade.

          As for Chicago CTA-III, V, VII, XI, and 16 are my favorites.

          • Zethran

            Ah, yeah I love “Rosanna”, very nostalgic song! My dad is a jazz musician and he used to play that one in some of his bands in the 80s that played pop songs at night clubs. I used to follow my older sister with her musical tastes for a while, until she got into metal. I’m ok with some metal, but it never really was my thing. I got into classic rock bands in my early teens, and then progressive rock in my college years. Chicago kind of directly linked me to Steven Wilson in a way, since I met a guy who introduced me to progressive rock at a Chicago concert, and then a friend I met at a Yes concert invited me to a Porcupine Tree concert. 🙂

            • perplexio

              I enjoy some metal… which I got into via Chicago. A couple of girls I used to correspond with were big fans of not only Chicago and the Sons of Champlin (another favorite of mine) but also Dream Theater. They recommended Dream Theater to me but I didn’t really take their advice at first. Then I picked up an ELP tribute album (Encores, Legends, and Paradox) which featured Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy drumming on a handful of songs. I was floored by his drumming so I picked up a couple of Dream Theater albums and I was hooked. I’ve tried to listen to Dream Theater’s material since Portnoy’s departure and it leaves me a bit flat. Mike Mangini is an excellent drummer, don’t get me wrong. But there was a chemistry there with Portnoy that I just don’t hear since his departure from Dream Theater.

              Some Dream Theater fans recommended Porcupine Tree so I checked out their In Absentia album. I also got into Shadow Gallery, Fates Warning, and OSI via Dream Theater (incidentally Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree replaced Mike Portnoy on drums in OSI).

  • John Kelman

    Great review of a great remix by Steven Wilson. Only one comment/nitpicky criticism: Chicago’s music has been remastered (often badly) over the years, and the recent Quadio box provided quad mixes of the band’s first 9 studio releases (including, oddly, their greatest hits album, Chicago IX. But I do not believe that any of the early albums – and especially II – have been remixed since the dawn of the digital/CD era.

    It’s why, in my review of Wilson’s remix over at All About Jazz, I talk about the different opportunities provided by remixing vs remastering. Wilson was able to do so much more because, aside from his astute ears, he was able to rebuild the mix from the ground up; with remasters, you can tweak EQ, compress (please don’t!), etc, but you are dealing with a master that’s already mixed and in 2-track stereo form. So if you pump up a certain frequency to tighten the bass, you can cause problems with other instruments and vocals – which is why remastering is such a dodgy proposition, truthfully. In the right hands with the right ears, some improvements can be achieved; but with a remix, you’ve got a whole lot more in the realm of possibilities because you’re working with discrete instrumental and vocal tracks.

    Other than that, great stuff!!

  • Christopher Long

    A well-written, insightful review, PERPLEXIO. Thank you!

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