Sound — 10
This is Chicago's third album, also a double album like their first two. While their previous album, Chicago II, threw classical into the mix of Jazz-Rock fusion, this one expands on the classical and adds some country and funk influences into the mix. In this album, their fatigue from the constant touring and recording is beginning to show. Tracks Free and Lowdown will satisfy the casual fan with the aggressive horn lines. In general, the prolonged jamming and soloing have been reduced; though can still be found in Sing a Mean Tune Kid and The Approaching Storm. "I Don't Want Your Money" has some brash guitar playing and is also a good song. The musical influences in this album are widespread and diverse. The opening track, Sing a Mean Tune Kid, carries a somewhat funkish style in Lamm's singing. Lowdown and Flight 602 are more country influenced, sounding almost like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The wide range includes all the jazz, rock, and classical elements established in previous albums thus far.
Lyrics — 10
No more is their fatigue more represented than in Robert Lamm's At the Sunrise (part of his multi-part-suite Travel Suite.) If you listen carefully, they have some Beatles-esque vocal styles in there. The homesickness carries over into Terry Kath's multi-part-suite (one of the three suites, just as many as in their previous album, Chicago II) An Hour in the Shower. It starts out as an acoustic driven song, but then picks up some drive and lyrically wanders from being far from home on tour and not being able to find your choice breakfast, to going to work, to dreaming about his childhood and treasure map, and finally to explaining the importance of showering off the Morning Blues Again. In keeping with the pattern, Pankow also contributes a multi-part-suite, his being Elegy. It starts out with the reading of a poem When all the Laughter Dies in Sorrow to set the mood. It then kicks off with Canon, a very classical track, and followed by the flute-dominated Once Upon a Time. If any non-dedicated fan managed to make it this far in the album, they'll probably stop it at the midpoint of this suite, Progress. It is pretty much a collage of jackhammer sounds and car horns with a trumpet driven backdrop bemoaning industry encroaching on nature. If you stick with it though Progress, you will be rewarded with The Approaching Storm. This is a six minute jazz jam, features drawn out solos, in the respective order, trumpet, keyboard, sax, guitar, trombone, and even a rare bass solo by Cetera (though he only goes for two or three bars). As could be expected, Kath's guitar prowess is top notch, though all the members of the horn section pull their own weight in their solos. After the quick bass solo, it jumps right into the final track of both the suite and the album, Man vs. Man: The End, ending the album on a very pessimistic note (opposite of the optimistic ending of their previous album). While the band is feeling more fatigue and allows it to show in their emotions and lyrics, it has no bad effects on their singing, or playing for that matter.
Overall Impression — 10
While following the same format as their past album, there are some fundamental differences. For starters, it's a lot harder to listen through for someone not really into Chicago. In fact, casual listeners would most likely get enough representation of this album from one of the group's best-of albums. Also like the previous album, it has a lot of continuity. To those who are into Chicago, this album is great. It's very artistic, but this one makes a statement more so than their other albums up to this point. While I give this album a perfect 10 in this category, those who aren't really into Chicago would have a hard time listening to this album and would probably rate it several points lower. I consider this to be one of my favorite albums, and would quickly replace it if it were lost/stolen/corrupted/etc.