Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Chicago and Peter Cetera Album (Part 3)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

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Solitude/Solitaire (1986, Full Moon/Warner Bros.)

B –

Cetera’s second solo album (and his first following his exit from Chicago) was dramatically more successful than his self-titled debut, but it’s also not nearly as appealing, either. The inherent problem isn’t so much the turn towards soft-rock, however – actually, the best moments here are undoubtedly the softest ones. It’s the up-tempo material that’s actually much more problematic, as it’s just not nearly as catchy as the ballads, and the few that come close – like the infectious “Big Mistake” and “They Don’t Make ‘em Like They Used To” – are so awash in synths and drum machines that they end up feeling like dance tunes (the barrage of electronic blips and beeps that open the latter song are especially jarring), which just sounds all wrong for Cetera. (Michael Omartian, who helmed the album, is a first-rate producer, having cut some memorable discs for Christopher Cross, Amy Grant, Rod Stewart, Donna Summer, and Stephen Bishop, to name a few, but this disc hasn’t aged nearly as well as most of his other projects.) Unfortunately, up-tempo tunes make up the overwhelming majority of the album, rendering this a very spotty affair. But the album is totally redeemed by its first two singles, both of them Number One hits. “Glory of Love,” penned for the movie The Karate Kid II, would become an immediate adult-contemporary classic, while “The Next Time I Fall” (co-written by Bobby Caldwell of “What You Won’t Do for Love” fame), a duet with a pre-Heart in Motion Amy Grant, is even better and is arguably the best ballad Cetera ever cut on his own.

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Chicago 18 (1986, Full Moon/Warner Bros.)

B –

Strangely enough, even though the Chicago of the first half of the ‘80s was less a band (who were barely even playing on their records at this point, David Foster having made extensive use of session musicians) and more of a showcase for Peter Cetera and Foster, who had become regular songwriting partners, Foster surprisingly ended up staying behind to work with the band again while Cetera tapped Michael Omartian to helm his first post-Chicago album. Cetera’s place has been filled here by newcomer Jason Scheff, son of Elvis Presley’s bassist Jerry Scheff; though no one can quite fully replace Cetera and his distinctive voice, Scheff acquits himself quite nicely. The material, on the other hand, is noticeably much weaker than the set of songs that graced Chicago 17, and it wasn’t a good sign when the lead-off single inexplicably turned out to be a newly-arranged and modernized version of “25 or 6 to 4,” one of the band’s most beloved classics. The filler here is a bit more tastefully-produced than the padding on Cetera’s competing solo record, but they’re not exactly memorable songs, either, and the album ultimately boils down to its singles, which, the re-recording of “25 or 6 to 4” aside, are not bad at all. “If She Would Have Been Faithful …” (written by Steve Kipner, who had co-written “Hard Habit to Break” and had scored previous hits with Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” and “Heart Attack,” and Randy Goodrum, who had penned the Anne Murray hits “You Needed Me” and “Broken Hearted Me” and co-written Steve Perry’s “Oh Sherrie” and DeBarge’s “Who’s Holding Donna Now”) would deservedly reach the Top 40, while the masterful “Will You Still Love Me?” (penned for the band by Foster) is the equal of anything from Chicago 17 and rocketed all the way to #3 for good reason.    

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One More Story (1988, Warner Bros.)

C

Cetera makes his strangest move yet as a solo artist by hooking up with producer Patrick Leonard, best known at this point for producing Madonna’s True Blue. But considering Cetera’s late-‘80s fondness for lite dance-pop (even if the sound never really suited him), Leonard’s involvement here makes a bit more sense than you might initially think, and he very much reproduces the sound of True Blue here, even recruiting Madonna herself (albeit under an alias) to provide backing vocals on the cut “Scheherazade.” (No, really!) Bonnie Raitt and Dave Gilmour also pop up here in cameo form, the former providing backing vocals on “Save Me” and the latter providing lead guitar on a pair of cuts. Ultimately, though, the disc suffers from the same problem as Solitude/Solitaire in that it has too many weak up-tempo cuts (even the lead-off single, “One Good Woman,” was up-tempo in nature, though it’s his finest up-tempo cut since his self-titled debut six years prior and would reach the Top Ten) and surprisingly few ballads. While “One Good Woman” scaled the charts, nothing else here did much, and Cetera would change things up considerably on his next outing.     

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Chicago 19 (1988, Full Moon/Reprise)

C + 

It’s better than Cetera’s near-simultaneous release One More Story and it churned out more hits than its predecessor, but in retrospect, it’s hard not to look at Chicago 19 as a bit of an artistic misstep. The band has cut ties to David Foster at this point and made a conscious effort to put some rock band into their sound, which sounds like an appealing idea at first, except that the horns are even less noticeable than before (and are barely even audible in the mix on many cuts) and they’ve morphed into an arena-rock band churning out power ballads by the likes of Diane Warren and produced by Ron Nevison, who sat at the helm of Heart’s unlikely monster comeback in the latter half of the ‘80s. Nevison’s a talented and appealing producer, and this disc is very much in the same vein as his other productions, but what works for Heart doesn’t necessarily work equally well for Chicago, and therein lies the fundamental problem with the record. That’s not to say there aren’t some redeeming songs here – the chart-topper “Look Away,” while sounding absolutely nothing like either vintage Chicago or even early-‘80s soft-rock Chicago, is undeniably a catchy song and one of the better power ballads from the late ‘80s to reach Number One, and “What Kind of Man Would I Be?” is nearly as good; “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love” and “You’re Not Alone” aren’t quite as appealing, but both are still mildly infectious and cracked the Top Ten. But Chicago under David Foster’s direction at least still sounded like ‘70s Chicago – if more “If You Leave Me Now” and “Baby, What a Big Surprise”-era Chicago than “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” or “Make Me Smile” – whereas the band just sounds too often here like it’s trying to win over Bon Jovi fans rather than playing to its strengths.  

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Twenty 1 (1991, Full Moon/Reprise)

D +   

The band’s first album of the Nineties – and their first without original drummer Danny Seraphine, who was quietly booted from the band in the years since their last disc – is unfortunately their most forgettable outing yet. (Chicago 13 may be more notorious, but it’s at least interesting and had stronger hooks.) The band sounds both out of step and creatively spent, and they’re still employing the tactic of recording arena-rock sides and Diane Warren power ballads – only this time, they don’t have any song even half as strong as “Look Away” to help redeem the disc. The disc did yield a Top 40 hit – the band’s very last to date – in the power ballad “Chasin’ the Wind,” but it’s easily their least catchy single in well over a decade and it not surprisingly stalled at #39.  The band clearly needed to shake things up once again, and they’d do exactly that next time out.

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World Falling Down (1992, Warner Bros.)

B +

Like all his solo discs, Cetera’s first album of the Nineties has some filler, but this might actually be his strongest batch of material overall since his self-titled debut; certainly, this is the most tasteful album he’s made since that record, finding Cetera gracefully settling into his role as a mainstay of adult-contemporary radio rather than trying to chase trends the way he did on One More Story, instead alternating between the ballads he’s best known for and infectious mid-tempo rockers like the excellent album opener and lead-off single “Restless Heart,” a Top 40 hit, or the equally catchy title cut. For those who prefer Cetera’s balladeer side, the disc doesn’t disappoint, and such cuts as the heartbreaking, Christopher Cross-like pop of “Even a Fool Can See,” the Chaka Khan duet “Feels Like Heaven,” the Leo Sayer cover “Have You Ever Been in Love?,” and the lovely “The Last Place God Made” are all examples of adult-contemporary pop done right. It may be lacking any hits as big as “Glory of Love” or “The Next Time I Fall,” but track for track, this is arguably the best of Cetera’s post-Chicago solo records and the equal of his self-titled solo debut from 1981.

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Night and Day: Big Band (1995, Giant)

C

The good news: Chicago’s brought its horns back in a very big way. (Not that the horn section had ever really disappeared, of course – it had simply been de-emphasized over the previous decade.) The bad news: this is not a rock album – or even a contemporary pop album, for that matter. This is a full-blown big-band standards disc, containing covers by the likes of Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, and Louis Prima. It’s a commercially questionable move for a mid-‘90s disc (bear in mind this disc actually came out before the swing revival of the late ‘90s that made a comeback star of Brian Setzer), but it’s just as artistically questionable. Mind you, it’s great to hear the band’s famed horn section played up in the mix again, but it’s highly unlikely that this sort of album was what longtime fans who had long been hoping for a return to the band’s roots really had in mind. Like most standards albums, it’s not at all bad or unlistenable (actually, for what it is, it's fairly good), but neither is it a critical purchase, either. It’s simply a mildly self-indulgent experiment that can safely be bypassed without missing out on anything essential.