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Review: Chicago box set captures band

By Ed Payne
CNN


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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Fresh off last year's platinum-selling "The Best of Chicago: Only the Beginning," the Windy City music veterans have tapped their extensive catalogue with a box set, featuring five CDs and one DVD.

The collection features 100 songs spanning Chicago's 36-year career -- including offerings from movie soundtracks, the "We Are the World: U.S.A for Africa" charity compilation and three tracks from Chicago's shelved "Stone of Sisyphus" (SOS) project from the early 1990s.

Widely bootlegged in varying degrees of quality, fans of SOS on the band's Web site -- Chicagotheband.com -- have regularly lamented that the band's last-known attempt to record a full album of original music written by band members has never been released. The inclusion of "All the Years," "Stone of Sisyphus," and "Bigger than Elvis" will please some, but leave others crying foul, yearning for the release of the full project.

Of greater interest to hardcore fans likely will be the DVD, featuring excerpts from 1972's Arie Crown Theatre concert in Chicago and a promotional film for "Chicago 13." Both are like opening a time capsule.

The first program of the DVD features late psychedelic-era Chicago -- arguably the group's most creative period. The second shows the band trying to market itself in 1979, while attempting to survive as disco acts like the Bee Gees and the Village People dominated the charts in the years following the death of original guitarist -- some say the "soul of the band" -- Terry Kath.

In an earlier CNN interview, founding member and trombone player James Pankow explained why he felt Chicago's popularity has endured.

"Perhaps one of the rewards for sticking it out for so many years is the fact that our music has jumped over that need to be pertinent for the day and has remained classical music and timeless," he said.

Alongside 'best-ofs'

The band formed in 1967, committed to the concept of forming a rock 'n roll band with horns. First called The Big Thing, the group was known as Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) on its debut album before taking its present name.

The band now claims worldwide sales exceeding 122 million records, five consecutive No. 1 albums at one point in its career, and 21 Top 10 and 35 Top 40 singles.

"Chicago -- The Box" is the latest offering since Rhino Entertainment began remastering and reissuing the band's catalogue last summer. Twelve of the band's first 14 albums have been re-released, in many cases with bonus tracks.

The box set is a more comprehensive look at Chicago's career when compared to last summer's "Best of" collection, more than doubling the 39 tracks on that release and delving into album track favorites like the "It Better End Soon" and "An Hour in the Shower" suites, plus "Hearts in Trouble" from the "Days of Thunder" soundtrack and "Good for Nothing" from "We Are the World."

Before the message board on the band's Web site went on hiatus in July, a number of posters lambasted Chicago for releasing what they regarded as another greatest hits collection. A check of the band's U.S. discography shows at least eight hits packages, not including two official live albums and a previous box set -- "Group Portrait" -- that prominently feature Chicago's hits.

A separate fan site has been receptive of the new box set, with postings defending the new collection.

"People HAD to know that this would be similar to 'Group Portrait' and XXVII [2002's hits package]. There were surprises like 'Good For Nothing' and 'Hearts In Trouble,' the 3 cuts from ... SOS, 'Heart In Pieces,' 'Forever,' and a few cuts from 'Twenty 1,' " a message board member called ChiTrek posted on Ctafanclub.com.

"But of course there were going to be ALL the hits and misses, and the Foster Era was a BIG part of the comeback of the 80's."

Producer David Foster is credited with resurrecting Chicago's career in the early 1980s by downplaying the band's traditional horn-laden sound in favor of more synthesizers and a heavier dose of ballads.


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