This album has two interesting things about it: it is the first album of original material since 2008 and “Chicago XXXII : Stone Of Sisyphus”, and it is also the first album recorded numerically on the road using what the band calls “The Rig”. And it should be said that the final result completely fits our expectations.
Because having nothing to prove to anyone beside themselves allows the nine musicians to offer a collection of tracks constituting the perfect entry in their jazz fueled rock and roll. As soon as we hear the first note from “Now”, with its delicate horns, we are driven to an elegant and sophisticated universe where you can find as many influences as members and instruments. Because despite having 9 members, a number that would make any other band crush under its own weight, each musician is free to express himself. Horns are , of course, the most recognizable part but so are the keyboards who gave us all those legendary ballads in the 801s, the guitar/bass arrangements are more modern than ever, drums and percussions infuse a heady groovy beat, and those voices…
Three singers share the microphone here and they all are perfect in their own role that they manage to leave their mark on each song, and when they meet in choruses that are as campy as they’re good (“nice girl wouhou…”) it makes it even better for the listener who sings along naturally.
And more than all that, you can feel their pleasure when playing together making this record a real “feel good album” that energizes you and makes you smile all day long. It’s that pleasure and that love of music that make listening to “Now : Chicago XXXVI” light and fast, as everything goes in your ear without you realizing you’ve been dancing to it every two chords (“More Will Be Revealed” is a hit in the making). But more than anything, the listener is given a true moment of coolness, even casualness. This 36th record is ideal to enjoy the summer’s heat.
And talking about heat, it should be noted that while the usual numeric production are often regarded as cold and impersonal, CHICAGO manages to offer a true organic and vivacious sound. Sometimes it feels like you’re listening to the musicians on stage (I really expected to hear a crowd applauding at the end of evey track) given a show only they know how to do. That human side makes their music even more accessible, opening it to broader audiences. And if all that was not enough, CHICAGO goes back to its roots with powerful and conscious texts;, most notably on the amazingly Arab influenced “Naked In The Garden Of Allah”, a true progressive rock anthem for peace, and a proof that there are still greats lyrics in rock.
Unfortunately, “Now: Chicago XXXVI” suffers from an uneven quality and some moments lack intensity after listening to them several times, notably “America” which feels a little too repetitive for my taste, or “Another Trippy Day” that, despites its qualities, fails to close the album on a memorable note.
Far from living in the past, CHICAGO offers us a new treat that sums up its career perfectly: elegant, catchy, classy, accessible and subtle. The qualities of this 23rd record are many, and while it’s not a revolution in the band’s music, it shows they still have a lot of energy and still a lot to say in their career. “Now” is a new release that should please the fans as well as bring in new people into CHICAGO.