This is Chicago’s first true album – album of new material – since Chicago XXX from 2006. As Chicago XXX was such a good release, I had high hopes for Chicago XXXVI: Now. Let’s take a look at the songs on this new release and see if the hopes were realized.
Chicago XXXVI: Now opens with the title song (“Now”), which was clearly inspired by Chicago’s touring with Earth, Wind and Fire. It’s overly derivative – more imitation than tribute, and its lyrics are like a reinstatement of “Feel” from Chicago XXX. A problem arises here that affects the entire album, as the horns sometimes sound real and sometimes sound synthesized, ’80s style. It’s hard to tell when the band members are playing actual instruments and when the sounds have been computer-generated.
“More Will Be Revealed” sounds like a Terry Kath song (“This Time” from Chicago XI) but the horns are synthetic. They sound positively middle-of-the-road (MOR) on “America,” a trite song with trite lyrics: “America is free/America is you and me.” “Crazy Happy” is a boring ’70s/early ’80s-style track. Where’s Peter Cetera when you need him?
On “Free At Last,” Lou Pardini delivers another Kath-ish vocal. But it’s on top of a start/stop multi-rhythm track that goes nowhere. And the lyrics are painfully bad: “Here’s to the future/here’s to the past.”
“Love Lives On” is a ballad that might have been written by Bryan Adams – or Ryan Adams – and then set aside: “We were more than each other’s cheap attraction… .” It goes on for over five minutes; it should have run no more than three and a half minutes.
“Something’s Coming, I Know” will make the listener wonder if 1977 has returned. Tony Manero might like this, but I didn’t. “Watching All the Colors” is a Robert Lamm composition that might have fit well on Chicago or Chicago III, if it were not executed in such a boring fashion. The brass sounds like Muzak.
Fortunately, we’re getting close to the conclusion of this 50-minute album. “Nice Girl” seems to be two songs awkwardly joined together. This is the type of track one listens to once but never again. “Naked in the Garden of Allah” features an interesting Middle Eastern opening – which calls to mind Bruce Springsteen’s “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin)” on The Rising, but the song that follows meanders around with no apparent destination. This 11-song album concludes with “Another Trippy Day,” the best track of the 11, but it’s a sad case of too little, too late.
If there’s some good news associated with Chicago XXXVI: Now, it’s that Lou Pardini does a great job of channeling the late Terry Kath. But the band simply failed to show up this time around, and Tris Imboden’s drumming is boring and predictable. On Chicago XXX, the band still displayed some guts on songs like “Feel (with Horns)” and “90 Degrees and Freezing.” That courage has dissipated and perhaps completely disappeared. What a disappointment.
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