Warner Brothers, 1991

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


There is a fine line that musicians walk, one that most folks never have to encounter. When the boss demands the latest TPS reports, you either deliver them or you don’t. There is no middle ground, no variance in the kind of product you are delivering. The creative element is completely gone from such a scenario.

Musicians are often placed in the precarious position of having to cede to commercial demands from various groups while maintaining their “edge” and a sense of the avant garde. This is nothing new, but it is incredibly disappointing when a seasoned band fails to deliver even a semblance of attempting to craft any sort of edge and completely gives into commercial interests instead.

By 1991, Chicago had exhausted the formula that brought them back to the public’s attention with 1982’s Chicago 16. A decade later and the former jazz/rock group was anything but, churning out lifeless ballad after lifeless ballad in an attempt to hang on to what had delivered them a second round of success. The final album delivered in this vein was 21, a disc that has come to represent a creative and commercial nadir for Chicago.

From the opening notes of “Chasin’ the Wind,” it is readily apparent the group has completely given themselves over to the AC crowd. The incredibly dated keyboards scream wimpy and we’re not even ten seconds in. Bill Champlin is a pro, but even he sounds completely disinterested in whatever the words are coming from his mouth.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That reminds me, Chicago used to have a horn section right? Well, in the 1980s, you’d be hard pressed to believe that the brass players were ever used for anything more than the occasional interjection. Chicago’s unique sound was completely destroyed in the ‘80s, something that continued over into the early ‘90s. Instead of providing the support and acting as vital, integral parts of the material, one could cut out all the horn performances and it would not make the slightest difference on the album. David Foster and Diane Warren effectively neutered one of the premier brass sections in rock. Nice going.

The production remains terribly dated, sucking the life out of the material. A song like “Who Do You Love” was meant to be a hard rocking guitar number with meaty riffs and big, loud sound. Instead, the drums sound as fake as I’d imagine Michael Jackson’s nose to be at fifty years of age, the vocals are stripped of grittiness and are processed through a number of filters I can’t possibly imagine.

It would be remiss of me as a Chicago fan not to mention “You Come To My Sense.” Of Chicago’s thirty-plus albums, this track has the singular honor of being considered the worst track that the band has ever recorded. When Chicago was dismissed as being wimpy during their renaissance, this is the kind of song those people were referring to. Jason Scheff must have been embarrassed to even lay down the vocals for this number in the studio, because no self respecting man could ever utter these words and make them sound natural, or at least come off as a genuine male. The lousy keyboard sounds, the lackluster and punchless vocals, the absolutely dreadful performance of the horn section -- it all makes for a terrible listening experience. And guess what sports fan…it was a SINGLE! Go to YouTube and search for the band’s performance of this number on the Arsenio Hall Show. If you can make it through the entire performance, than you deserve some sort of medal.

The only reason that this album avoids an “F” is the inclusion of “God Save The Queen.” It may be a clichéd pro-environment song, but the horns actually sound useful and get a few chances to shine on their own. Chicago was completely embarrassed by this effort, which led to the recording of the SOS album. With the advantage of hindsight, we can see this is the album that killed off Chicago from ever being a relevant band again. Fifteen years later, the group is still suffering from the fallout.

Rating: D-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2008 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers, and is used for informational purposes only.