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?”
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