Published: March, 2006, Ear Candy
Chicago XXX
(Rhino)

By Michael Fortes

Chicago fans are, for the most part, split down the middle. There's the '80s crowd that swoons to prom favorites like "Hard Habit To Break" and "Look Away," and then there's the old school bunch who respond more positively to early rockers like "25 or 6 to 4" and "South California Purples." Chicago's new album, curiously titled XXX (the numbering system was seemingly abandoned after "Twenty-1"), appears to make the attempt at pleasing both sets of fans. After the single "Feel" kicks off the album, with Robert Lamm singing lead on a radio-serviced tune for the first time since your mother can remember, a succession of big ballads follows. Bassist and high tenor vocalist Jason Scheff sings most of these. "King Of Might Have Been" just might earn him some points with the prom crowd, and in a new twist, he brings his country pals from producer Jay DeMarcus' Rascal Flats on board to help out with "Love Will Come Back." Hmm… the die-hards might be running scared at even the thought, but fortunately they get some bones thrown their way once track 7 kicks in. Robert Lamm's "90 Degrees and Freezing" and "Come To Me, Do" bring some of that classic Chicago sound back to the fore, and Bill Champlin one-ups him with the Steely Dan-like "Better." Champlin's other big score, the humorous "Already Gone," actually features a little bit of jamming at the end, another "first time since who knows when" moment on a Chicago album. Not everyone is going to be happy with the whole album, but at least the horns are front-and-center - exactly where they should be - for most of the album.