Charging into the 1970's, Chicago took radio by storm with hits such as "Beginnings," "Make Me Smile," "Colour My World," and "Saturday in the Park."
Limping into the 1980's, hardly anybody noticed Chicago at all. The liner notes to this Rhino remastered re-release explain (in part) why.
CHICAGO XIV, the band's first set of the decade, is a real mixed bag. It features better tunes than the previous offerings--the dismal "Hot Streets" and "Chicago 13." It boasts the talented guitarist Chris Pinnick, who replaces the mercifully departed Donnie Dacus. But it also heralds the complete dominance of vocalist Pete Cetera and the indifferent production of Tom Dowd.
Dowd, who produced some classic Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd albums, badly misfires with Chicago, muting the overall "big" sound the band had developed under James William Guercio. Too, he lets a series of awful Cetera ballads dominate the first half of the CD; drivel like "Song for You" and "Where Did the Loving Go" signal the eventual decline of Chicago into Cetera-spun sap (the same goes for the dreadful "Birthday Boy," a Daniel Seraphine/David Wolinski opus best left in the out-take bin). The liner notes indicate that Dowd was unable to control much of what went on during the sessions, and band profiles (such as "Chicago: VH1 Behind the Music") show that no one was able to control what went on OUTSIDE the sessions.
The band somewhat overcomes these disadvantages with solid rockers like Bobby Lamm's "Manipulation," Cetera's "Hold On," and Jimmy Pankow's "The American Dream."
The second half of the CD is aided as well by the great uptempo single "Thunder and Lightning" (why it didn't chart higher is still a mystery to me), and Lamm's excellent "I'd Rather Be Rich"--the CD's absolute standout, ranking among the best Chi's ever done (an early version of this great tune can be found on Rhino's remaster of Chicago X). Even Cetera's mid-tempo "Overnight Cafe" has a pleasing hook and a killer bridge.
The Rhino remaster features three bonus tracks, any one of which is preferable to "Song for You." Lamm's "Doin' Business" is uptempo and catchy, and his "Soldier of Fortune" is perhaps better than anything that wound up on on the original release. Cetera growls out the Pankow-penned "Live It Up," which, admittedly, is nothing special.
CHICAGO XIV sold poorly. Very soon after its release, Columbia dropped the band, sending it into limbo. This is sad, because XIV features some of the band's best work in years, mishandled though it may be.