The rock band Chicago grew in popularity in the mid-1970s based on songwriting that epitomized musical accessibility. At concerts and in record shops, fans of the band's earliest and hardest rocking recordings would either be joined or replaced by newcomers dazzled by the low-key, mainstream appeal of the love ballads infused with salsa rhythms and tight overall arrangements that represented a complete reversal from 'Liberation''s controlled chaos, the comfort-zone jamming of 'Sing a Mean Tune, Kid,' and Chicago VII's more progressive forays.
On VH-1's Behind The Music, Robert Lamm recalled, 'Terry Kath...noticed that the music that we were recording was not quite as experimental as previous albums had been,' and, as the band ascended, a more self-conscious sound emerged on their final albums featuring him, as, where Kath's guitar is briefly heard, it graces simple blues and soul chart variations.
Towards the end of his life, though, his playing exhibited an instantly recognizable tone, and his voice mirrored a degree of confidence earned from the fact that he had spent more than a decade of his life as a member of one of the most popular musical acts in history.
Terry Alan Kath (January 31, 1946 – January 23, 1978)
Chicago VIII (3/5)
'Old Days' anchors Chicago VIII, and exhibits a newfound interest in nostalgia, while Terry Kath's input relies on sensitive singer-songwriter fare such as 'Brand New Love Affair' and ''Till We Meet Again,' both of which sound influenced by James Taylor. He also bends his guitar strings in a style synonymous with Jimi Hendrix's patented manner of phrasing on 'Hideaway' and 'Oh, Thank You Great Spirit,' and both efforts sound like a recreation of Hendrix for those who missed out the first time around. Overall, the CD marks a return to straight ahead rock sounds and is less adventurous than its immediate predecessor.
Chicago IX (3/5)
One of the band's most popular original releases, Chicago IX compiles hits onto one CD. Instantly familiar single edits of 'Make Me Smile,' 'Beginnings,' and 'Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?' appear, while '25 or 6 to 4,' 'Just You 'n Me," and 'Saturday in the Park' pack the most punch. The entire smash hit triumvirate from Chicago VII appears near the end of the album; placed successively, a colder if more commercially appealing aura sets in and alters the flow of the CD. More comprehensive Chicago hits packages exist, and even The Innovative Guitar of Terry Kath (1997) sums up Kath's brilliance in a more complimentary but less complete manner. Chicago IX, however, is still widely available and is the best place to begin an exploration of the group's music for the budget-conscious.
Chicago X (2/5)
Legend states that the band struggled to write material during the sessions for Chicago X, and, as a result, the producer ordered up a commercial song, which Peter Cetera eventually provided with 'If You Leave Me Now,' a worldwide hit that set the stage for Cetera's eventual solo career. Their Grammy award, though, was won for the cover art, not for the music, and the dubious quality of the accompanying CD is entirely the mark of a somewhat uninspired band dedicating themselves to the most commercially acceptable pathways possible by singing one-dimensional lyrics dealing with love and sex and toning down the exuberance tenfold.
Chicago XI (3/5)
The majority of Chicago XI is comprised of better-than-average love songs that, stylistically, continue in the vein of X but with a bit more focus. Peter Cetera is pushed out front again with the hit 'Baby, What a Big Surprise,' and sociopolitical commentary on 'Policeman' and 'Vote For Me' stamps the CD as more versatile than the last pair of studio recordings. However, on what would, unfortunately, become his testament, Terry Kath''s voice is given more attention than his guitar, with the hornless 'Takin' it on Uptown' and the sultry 'This Time' being the lone exceptions that break the mold. Most of the material is as low-key as a Summer siesta, as the band relies on older compositions ('Mississippi Delta City Blues') and material performed at noticeably lazier-than-usual tempos. However, the disc is a document of a band still functioning as an intrinsic unit capable of occasionally penning a winning song ('Take Me Back to Chicago') amidst what was increasingly beginning to sound like 'tough times'.