Becky's Reviews of Chicago Albums, CTA through 17
Release Date: 1982
Cover Design: Microchip with Magnifying Glass
Proves Cover Theory?: Yes
Becky Rating: VII out of X
Chicago 16, the big 1982 comeback, is an album with many firsts for Chicago. It was Chicago's first album with respected San Francisco musician Bill Champlin as a full-fledged band member. It was the first one produced by David Foster, who co-wrote several songs with Peter Cetera. It was the first one to make extensive use of outside songwriters and outside backup musicians (namely, the Toto guys). It was the first one not to be released on Columbia Records and the first one not to feature Robert Lamm on lead vocals on any of the songs. The album's first single, Hard to Say I'm Sorry, was their first Number One hit since Terry Kath died. And the album is very good - for the first two-thirds.
I will never forget the first time I heard Hard to Say I'm Sorry on the radio. I was attending music camp at the Big Ten university from which I would later graduate. It was a week full of choir practices, Vivaldi, pizzas, letters from boyfriends, elevators, conveyor belt "sharks," Coke dispensers in the dining room, and the sheer joy of being around music people. Relaxing in my dorm room on the seventh floor of Willkie North Hall (I really loved this camp, can you tell?) one afternoon toward the end of the week, the radio played a song that started with some piano chords. I didn't pay attention until I heard the voice: "Everybody needs a little time away...I heard her say...from each other." I couldn't believe it. "It's Peter Cetera," I thought to myself. Chicago was back!
They came back as a different Chicago than we heard on XIV or XI - not a better or worse Chicago, but a different one. Bill Champlin proves to be the piece of the puzzle that was missing since Terry Kath's death. His bluesy voice and strong songwriting are evident throughout the album, particularly on his Sonny Think Twice, the best song on 16 (best line: "Every man will get his chance to play the fool/Every time he takes his chances and thinks he's cool"), and on Follow Me. His additions to the band are nothing but positive.
Cetera remains the dominant lead singer, and also wrote or co-wrote many of the songs on 16. When he has a good song, and doesn't overdo it on the vocals - such as the first two cuts and Hard to Say I'm Sorry - he's great. Sometimes, though, he makes you shake your head - witness his laughable "Heavy heavy heavy" ad-lib on the chorus of Chains. He also seems jarringly out of place on his little moment in Sonny Think Twice.
Speaking of Chains, this is a good place as any to remark on the heavy use of synthesizers on 16. Sometimes I can't tell if I'm hearing real horns or synths. Foster, of course, is a keyboard guy, and he lends his considerable expertise to the musical mix, but doesn't neglect the trademark Chicago horns. Again, it's not bad, but different.
There is a down side to 16, though, and it comes in the last three songs, all very weak additions to the Chicago catalogue. What Can I Say is a poor re-write of Just You 'n' Me. Pankow even plagiarizes his own arrangement! Rescue You has a very Rick Springfield vibe to it and isn't up to the high standards of Chicago. And even though it was a big hit for them, Love Me Tomorrow is not one of my favorites. Cetera's mealy-mouthed delivery of the line "She luuuvv me" is just unbearable. It's amazing that the guy who recorded the hard-rocking Living in the Limelight on his solo album that same year sang this crap. I took one point off my rating just for those three songs.
With 16, we enter the third period of Chicago's history. The three lead vocalists are back in place; the production is strong; the horns get another chance to assert themselves, and the songs were commercial enough to get them back on the radio and to get the Chicago name out to a whole new group of fans.
Thanks again to Courtney (OH)!