Yet here comes another Chicago compilation (a.k.a. Chicago XXXI). But what makes this one special is that it celebrates the group’s 40th anniversary: a career of numerous Top 40 hits, millions of albums sold, and relentless touring. Unlike the previous hits collections, it incorporates tracks from the solid, if underrated, recent studio album, XXX.
Disc One captures the original group at its artistic and popular peak in the ‘70s—dominated by keyboardist Robert Lamm’s songwriting and the horn section of trumpeter Lee Loughnane, woodwinds player Walt Parazaider, and trombonist James Pankow. Songs such as “Saturday in the Park,” “Just You ‘N’ Me,” and “If You Leave Me Now” still gets radio airplay today. That classic and best line-up showcased some innovative playing, particularly the guitar work by the late Terry Kath; the jazzy drumming of Danny Seraphine; and the three vocal leads of Kath, Lamm and Peter Cetera.
The ‘80s and beyond version of Chicago occupies Disc Two of the collection—a period consisting mainly of Cetera-sung/David Foster-produced power ballads. Tracks such as “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “Hard Habit to Break” and “You’re The Inspiration are great but they represent a major sea change from what Chicago used to be from the previous decade. Jason Scheff and Bill Champlin proved to me a more-than-adequate front men after Cetera’s departure although the group was still mired in those power ballads like “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love.” Fortunately the songs off of the recent XXX album, “Feel” and “Love Will Come Back,” are surprisingly pleasant and heartfelt.
One can’t argue with the obvious hits on Best of, although loyal fans will probably be critical about the edits, particularly on the earlier tracks, especially “25 or 6 to 4” is a disappointment. (For a more comprehensive listen to the band’s music, try Only the Beginning: The Very Best of Chicago, or the 5-CD The Box) Still it is a decent hits package.
Watch YouTube videos of Chicago performing “If You Leave Me Now,” “You’re The Inspiration,” and “25 or 6 to 4”: