Wednesday, 12 April 2017

"Chicago" from 1970 aka "Chicago II" by CHICAGO (January 2017 'Steven Wilson Remix' and Remaster CD Reissue on Rhino) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Colour My World..."

It doesn't take a Mensa certificate to work out that old fart 'remaster' fans like me (and a few million others) have come to worship at the feet of Steve Wilson – the go-to Musician and Audio Engineer for CD transfers – especially those albums with a Proggy leaning.

But what needs to be pointed out about this 2017 SW reissue of Chicago's second platter "Chicago" (January 1970 on Columbia Records in the USA and March 1970 on CBS Records in the UK) is that it's a 'different' "Chicago" than the straight-up 1CD remaster Rhino put out in July 2002. Housed in a fetching and accurate Mini Gatefold LP Repro Card Sleeve complete with fold-out poster inside – the small print on the back of this new reissue wants to hammer home this 'different' point by stating clearly what you're buying - 'Original Mix released 1970. This remix copyright to Rhino for 2017...'

So what's so different that they need to put a Steve Wilson Remix box in the upper left corner of the sleeve beneath the Rhino catalogue number? Porcupine Tree's SW has taken the 16-track original tapes and reconstructed a 'new' Stereo Remix - and with modern-day technology - that's allowed him to get down and dirty with the musicianship at a nuclear level. Working with isolated High Resolution 96kHz/24-Bit digitally transferred files - guitars, piano, brass jabs, strings, layered vocals and even stereo positioning - all came up for grabs and improvement on what was a notoriously audio-compromised vinyl release in the first place.

Painstakingly rebuilt from the rhythm section upwards - the results are amazing - 'different' to the straightforward Rhino transfer for sure - but stunning nonetheless – especially on those string-heavy sections on Side 3 and the Brass and Flute Movements of Side 4. And as Wilson quite rightly points out in his page-long October 2016 explanation - those who are used to the original 1970 double-album 'sound' and would only want that variant on CD - can buy the Rhino reissue of 2002 in its card slipcase easily (and cheaply too). And if you want more of that variant Rhino also released a DVD-Audio in 2003 with 5.1 Surround Mixes. Now let's get to the details of this 2017 variant – Chicago Transit Authority's second 'poem for the people'...

UK and USA released 27 January 2017 - "Chicago: Steven Wilson Remix" by CHICAGO offers the full original 2LP set from 1970 Remixed and Remastered onto 1CD housed in card repro artwork with a fold-out inlay. The US issue is on Rhino R2  559549 (Barcode 081227941499) – the UK one on Rhino 081227941499 (Barcode 081227941499). Both play out as follows (67:17 minutes):

1. Movin' On [Side 1]
2. The Road
3. Poem For The People
4. In The Country
5. Wake Up Sunshine

Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon [Side 2]
6. Make Me A Smile
7. So Much To Say, So Much To Give
8. Anxiety's Moment
9. West Virginia Fantasies
10. Colour My World
11. To Be Free
12. Now More Than Ever

13. Fancy Colours [Side 3]
14. 25 or 6 to 4
15. Prelude
16. A.M. Mourning
17. P.M. Mourning
18. Memories Of Love

It Better End Soon [Side 4]
19. 1st Movement
20. 2nd Movement
21. 3rd Movement
22. 4th Movement
23. Where Do We Go From Here
Tracks 1 to 23 make up their 2nd studio set - the double-album "Chicago" (sometimes referred to as "Chicago II") – released January 1970 in the USA on Columbia KGP-24 and March 1970 in the UK on CBS Records 66233. Produced by JAMES WILSON GUERCIO - it peaked at No.4 in the USA and No. 6 in the UK.

ROBERT LAMM - Vocals and Keyboards
TERRY KATH - Vocals and Guitar
PETER CETERA - Vocals and Bass
LEE LOUGHNANE - Trumpet and Vocals
WALTER PARAZAIDER - Woodwinds (including Flute) and Vocals

The inner gatefold of the original double-album is reproduced complete with the lyrics to the socially charged "It Better End Here" over on the right side while credits fill the left. The foldout insert gives us the poster of the seven-piece group individually photographed in sepia – all barefoot and leaning on chairs – looking suitably in touch with a zeitgeist that eludes us mere mortals. The flipside of the foldout poster gives us album/reissue credits alongside Steve Wilson's in-depth explanations of what had to be done and how it was technically pulled of. To the music...

In all honesty (and having lived with this sucker for 47 years) I don't know if I share the sentiments of the 'Chicago 50/1967 to 2017' sticker on the front cover of this reissue that screams "Chicago" is the preeminent masterpiece. I much prefer Sides 3 and 4 to the first LP - but there's no doubting the wallop of the Trumpet and Trombone on "Movin' On" as they hit your speakers - the first of eight James Pankow compositions on the double-album (tracks 6 to 12 are the others). Terry Kath forks up "The Road" where those crashing cymbals feel more alive while the piano intro to Robert Lamm's "Poem For The People" is just plain beautiful. Other faves include "Make Me Smile" - the brass dancer that opens the 'Buchannon Girl' suite on Side 2 where children play in the park. There's amazing sound from the tambourine and various keyboards doing battle with the brass on the short "West Virginia Fantasies" segueing tastefully into the pretty "Colour My World" where Chicago sound like Terry Callier over on Cadet Records.

While the obvious hit single "25 or 6 to 4" is here in its full 4:52 minute album glory (the 7" single was an edit) - my poison has always been the four-part "Memories Of Love" suite that follows - "Prelude", "A.M. Mourning", "P.M. Mourning" and the title track. The Flute and String arrangements are startling - unnervingly lovely - cool even. The same applies to the funkier parts of the "2nd Movement" as that slinky Terry Kath guitar plinkers alongside Walter Parazadier's breathy Flute. I love this. And the build-up in "3rd Movement" and wild guitars in the 4th is like C.C.S. or the better bits of the Blood, Sweat and Tears catalogue from 1969 and 1970. Hell there's even Ian Anderson's Jethro Tull in there too.

Wilson is (yet again) to be praised for his work on an album that has fallen by the appreciation wayside. "Where Do We Go From Here" - Peter Cetera asks in the final song of "Chicago". You buy this and get all Funky Prog Classical on your living room's ass...

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