I've been listening to the new/old Chicago album Stone of Sisyphus aka Chicago 32 lately, the legendary "lost" album of the classic Horn band. It's hard to believe a group that's released over thirty albums could have a "lost" record, but they did. It was 1993, after being a horn rock institution in the 70's the band fell out of favor with listeners by the end of the Me decade. The band reinvented themselves as high class balladeers minus the horns, a strategy that paid off until the start of the 90's. Chicago 21 was a pretty good disc but was met with mild indifference from the public. Forced to re assess their situation, Chicago decided that it was time to move out of their self imposed power ballad limits and bring back the horns. The record company balked at the Stone of Sisyphus and so the band took their ball and went home.
Now, in 2008, their recordings see the light of day. Was it worth the wait? Well, yes, but it's not quite as good as I had hoped. With the horns the Jazz is also back in the beat, but not the classic jazz style they exerted on their 70's phase. Instead, it's more of a late 80's Spyro Gyra / Kenny G vibe that overtakes the disc. However, the jazzy arrangements sound natural even as they retain their 80's sense of melody. The soft ballad "Let's Take A Lifetime" is the highlight, a gentle song that allows the horns to carry the muted feeling of the song amid wafting vocals. This song had the potential to be a massive hit had it been released in the 90's. "Mah-Jong" is their Spyro Gyra song and like many other tracks have the infectous feeling of a band stretching out. The title cut is Toto worthy with it's bracing anthem and punchy groove. Even the slighly overdone gang vocals to Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed reflect the inspired jamming Chicago had fallen into. Another cut, The Pull, is melodic rock nirvana.
Despite these strong points, Stone of Sisyphus falls short of classic just by nature of what the band had become: a weakened version of the original Chicago. Although many originals remained (Robert Lamm-keyboards & vocals, Lee Loughnane - trumpet, Walt Parazieder-saxophone and James Pankow-trombone) and some fine replacements were brought in (Jason Scheff-bass & vocals, Bill Champlain-keyboards & vocals, Tris Imboden-drums and DeWayne Bailey-guitars) it just wasn't as good as the Terry Kath / Peter Cetera era. For the most part, the band's vaunted penchant for overblown arrangements performed with alchemic grace was replaced with sturdy professionalism.
While the band flexed its horn muscles, Chicago could not deny their fans at least one sappy song. This time out, it's "Bigger Than Elvis" which takes the band's trademark power ballad format and sticks in heartfelt mush about Jason Scheff loving his dad to the point it was bigger than Elvis. Scheff's father had played bass with the King. This much saccharine in one four minute block is dangerous! Look out for the cavity creeps.
Still, this band of long worn pros had a fire in the belly this time out. Easily the most inspired of the latter day Chicago albums, Stone of Syphillus, I mean sissy fists, um, Sisyphus-that new record is good. Even Axl Rose wanna be DeWayne Bailey (guitars) reins in his "rocker" instincts (Bailey rocked but seemed out of place, fans would be visibly mystified by his 80's guitar hero theatrics during solos for "Stay The Night") to put his best playing on tape. If you're a fan of 80's Chicago, Stone is a must have because it's far and away their most musically satisfying effort in eons. If not, then I can only recommend it for lovers of lite jazz pop. Since I'm the former, I like it a lot.
Chicago "Let's Take A Lifetime"