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Chicago X
Chicago

Columbia PC 34200
Released: June 1976
Chart Peak: #3
Weeks Charted: 44
Certified 2x Platinum: 11/21/86

Jim GuercioThe music on X scarcely departs from the formulas that have made Chicago synonymous with mass-market rock. More than any other band, Chicago mirrors and affirms the American technological ideal. The brawling crudeness of Chicago's harder horn-based rock reflects American car culture by giving musical shape to the sound frequency of urban rush-hour traffic. Whether or not consciously intended, "Another Rainy Day in New York City," with its imitation of Puerto Rican dialect set against a steel drum, also works as accurately imitative urban "environmental" music.

If Chicago's cement-mixer energy recalls Carl Sandburg's sentimental paean to the second city, the anonymity of its members emblematizes individual self-sacrifice for larger democratic/technological goals. For Sandburg's poem was written at a time when hardly anyone questioned the value of heavy industry. Thus, ironically, while Chicago boasts one of the most immediately identifiable sounds of any rock band, the sound itself, wafted on mostly elemental tunes and cretinously "up" lyrics, puts the stamp of approval on everything impersonal and mass-produced in American life.

Chicago - Chicago X
Original album advertising art.
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Early in their existence, Chicago must have had to decide whether to continue to refine the sound which had made them successful or risk losing their popularity, like Blood, Sweat & Tears, by going the artistically more honorable route and experimenting creatively with horns in a rock setting. Probably because Chicago is a producer's band, they opted for homogeneity and technical polish instead of experimentation. Just as the voices in band are submerged in the sound package, the horns are interwoven into Jim Guercio's meticulous choral approach to rock record production. This approach almost necessarily disallows any but the most abbreviated riffs. Exercising such total control, Guercio can even capitalize on the band members' mediocre voices by reducing them to a role coequal with the horns.

The most significant change in Chicago's sound has been the sweetening influence of the Beach Boys. Chicago's movement toward a more lavish and sophisticated lyricism than in the prototypically simple "Colour My World" was launched spectacularly on the Chicago-Beach Boys collaboration "Wishing You Were Here." This influence is a welcome feature on several of X's cuts. "You Are on My Mind" is a fluid, exciting, Latin-inflected song with whining Beach Boys-style vocals. Even more impressive, "If You Leave Me Now" is a producer's tour-de-force in which Chicago's beautifully recorded and mixed vocals blend with excellent orchestration by Jimmie Haskell and Guercio's own imaginative and subtle work on bass and acoustic guitar. Significantly, the horns have a much lower than usual profile on this cut. More typical of Chicago, and much less interesting, are "You Get It Up" and "Skin Tight," ugly droning music that celebrates the traffic jam it inevitably invokes.

- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 8/12/76.

Bonus Reviews!

Continuation of the series of topnotch efforts from this premiere rock band. Material is nicely varied for airplay, and a switch from group vocals to lead singing keeps the pace moving. Producer Jimmy Guercio leaves his stamp as usual. At times, though, one could wish for more lyrical impact and a lessening of heavy bass lines. On certain cuts, you almost get the feeling that the group is looking to break away from the formula sound that has proved so successful for them to date. Best cuts: "You Are On My Mind," "Skin Tight," "Hope For Love," "Gently I'll Wake You," "Scrapbook," "Mama Mama."

- Billboard, 1976.

It was here that Chicago began to turn toward "power" ballads, but only because it was scoring only modest hits with such more eclectic material as Robert Lamm's "Another Rainy Day In New York City" and John Pankow's "You Are On My Mind," while Peter Cetera's "If You Leave Me Now" topped the charts, went gold, and won Grammy Awards for arrangement and vocal performance. * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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