Home Read Classic Album Review: Chicago | The Box

Classic Album Review: Chicago | The Box

There's more to life than being cool — as this massive box set definitively proves.


Editor’s Note: A moronic dipshit with a plagiarism website has decided to steal all my copy lately. So just know if you’re reading this on any site except Tinnitist — especially one with the word celeb in ints handle — it’s been stolen by a sad soap-dodging loser with a micro-penis who can only get it up by watching a syphilitic crack whore (aka his mother) get rammed up the ass by an inbred donkey (aka his father). Thanks! Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming:


This came out in 2003 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Chicago are not cool. Oh sure, if you’re a high school band geek or a nostalgic baby boomer, maybe they’re role models or icons or whatever. But cool, in the way that, say, Keith Richards or The White Stripes are cool? No way. Never will be. And even if they were once — like back when they were the house band at the Whiskey A Go-Go in the wake of The Doors — those days are long gone.

Of course, I suspect Chicago couldn’t care less about this. After all, who needs to be cool when you are ridiculously successful and filthy stinking rich? There’s no denying the guys in this veteran jazz-pop septet qualify are the former — and unless they’re stupider with their cash than Mike Tyson in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve, they should have no trouble with the latter. Because you see, cool or not, according to Billboard, Chicago rank second only to The Beach Boys as the most successful American band of all time. Part of that is simple longevity; the group just celebrated their 35 birthday with four of its original seven members still in the fold. Another part is versatility; over the years, the guys have evolved (or perhaps devolved) from an eclectic, adventurous ensemble into a safe, commercial corporation. But the real key to their survival is their consistency; through all their ups and down, Chicago have continued to churn out one memorable radio hit after another. Not bad for guys who are still anonymous enough to use their real names to pay for online porn.

Honouring that remarkable achievement — the musical stuff, not the online porn thing — seems to be the point of The Box, the Chicago retrospective that landed with a thud on my desk last week. It landed with a thud because it is huge. Formidable. Bloody super-sized. No mere three- or four-disc set for these guys, oh no. The Box has six discs — five CDs and a DVD — with over 100 tracks. All in all, nearly seven hours of Chicago, housed in a nice multiple-gatefold box and accompanied by a 62-page booklet with the usual bio and pics and stats. That’s way more Chicago than anyone needs, I thought. Turns out I was wrong.

As you wade into the seemingly bottomless waters of The Box, you realize just how many damn hits this band has had. And how many of them are encoded on our collective DNA through endless repetition over decades. The first half of the set, which covers the group’s first eight albums, houses a stupidly long list of FM staples and beer-ad mainstays: Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?, Beginnings, Make Me Smile, Colour My World, To Be Free / Now More Than Ever, 25 or 6 to 4 … OK, breathe … Saturday in the Park, Just You ’N’ Me, Feelin’ Stronger Every Day, (I’ve Been) Searching So Long, Wishing You Were Here, Call on Me and (phew) Old Days among them. Impressive, no? Even more impressive, though, is the variety of styles in the band’s arsenal: Everything from jazz and rock to R&B, funk and soul, to garage-rock and classical. It’s almost enough to make you think maybe Chicago were cool after all.

Then, sadly, comes the back end of The Box. That’s enough to dash any shot these guys have at retro-hipness. What happened? If You Leave Me Now happened. This syrupy ballad topped the charts in 1976, becoming the band’s biggest hit and bisecting their résumé into two eras: The Rockin’ Old Stuff and The Gloppy New Stuff. After If You Leave Me Now, Chicago started churning out the wussy, chest-beating power ballads like so much Velveeta. Again, the list is long: Baby, What A Big Surprise, Love Me Tomorrow, Hard to Say I’m Sorry, Stay the Night, Hard Habit to Break, You’re the Inspiration, Will You Still Love Me? and I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love. Oh, the heartache. The humanity. The hairspray.

Still, if The Box teaches us anything, it’s that Chicago wrote some decent songs between all those squishy singles. More than a few of those worthwhile album cuts are included here, such as the Randy Newmanesque Harry Truman, the rocking Alive Again, their contemporary upgrade of Duke Ellington’s Caravan and a trio of moodier, funkier fare from an unreleased 1993 album called The Stone of Sisyphus. Another surprising treat is the DVD, which offers 25 minutes of live footage from a 1972 show and a short promotional film for 1979’s Chicago 13. Pity there aren’t more audio and video rarities in The Box; as it stands, anyone fanatical enough about Chicago to buy it probably already owns over 80% of it.

But for those of us who don’t, The Box is extensive enough to give you a new appreciation not only for Chicago’s accomplishments, but also their resilience. So maybe there’s more to life than being cool after all.


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