Chicago VI begins a new chapter in Chicago history: It was the first of five albums recorded at producer James William Guercio’s Caribou Ranch studio in the Colorado Rockies, described by Robert Lamm as a “creative monastery.” Danny Seraphine had some different memories of the Caribou, which you will find in his book Street Player. Let’s just say it was far from a monastery.
The isolated setting, or maybe the altitude – or both – seems to have affected the music. In contrast to the first four studio albums, we now get shorter, more pop-oriented songs; fewer long guitar solos; more guest artists; more lyrics about Chicago’s adventures in the music business; and, fewer lyrics about current events and the state of the world.
Most importantly, Chicago VI is where Terry Kath and Robert Lamm begin to pull back and let other band members run the show. James Pankow is the leader of this album – look, there he is, right smack in the middle of the group portrait on the cover — and he remains as such on Chicago VII before Peter Cetera pushes his way to the front. Lamm and Kath remain highly important contributors, but never again will either one dominate a Chicago album like they did on the first five.
The album doesn’t get off to a great start. “Critic’s Choice,” the lead-off song, is Robert Lamm’s first misfire. Not because of the music, which includes lots of jazzy major sevenths and minor ninths banged out on the piano. Rather, it’s the lyrics — a whiny complaint about bad reviews from music critics that no member of the listening public can relate to.
Think about it. Unless you are Kim Jong-un, someone has criticized you for something in the last several days. Unlike, say, Pope Francis or the Dalai Lama, you probably got upset about that criticism. But unless you are Robert Lamm (or Robert Plant or Mick Jagger or James Taylor, but you get my drift) you weren’t called out with “musical blasphemies” for your work on a million-selling album by a critic in a national magazine. You can’t relate to this song and you really don’t care.
And why, when this was in the can, didn’t he develop it into a full song and put it on the album? It would have made a much stronger opener. Those chords! Those beautiful major seventh chords!
Fortunately, “Critic’s Choice” is only about three minutes long and can easily be skipped over in favor of the rest of Chicago VI – including some excellent songs from Robert Lamm.
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