‘Lost’ Chicago album is a found mixed bag

I love B-sides. I love hearing unreleased tracks as bonus elements on a CD or a boxed set. I love finding heretofore “lost” albums which finally find the light of day. I love music such as Lindsey Buckingham’s Gift of Screws album, which never got a label release yet provided strong songs for Fleetwood Mac such as Steal Your Heart Away and Bleed to Love Her.

So you’d think Chicago’s “lost” album, Stone of Sisyphus, would be right up my alley — especially since it reportedly was nixed by its label when it proved to be an adventurous throwback to Chicago’s edgy, experimental jazz-rock sounds from its first two double-length long-players.

As it turns out, though, Stone of Sisyphus, while a good try, is no CTA or the self-titled second Chicago album. Rather, it’s often guilty of forced departures simply for the sake of shaking things up, as with a lamentable rap track called Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed. And mixed with those pointed departures (you’d think Chicago was in the mode of the Monkees making Headquarters), the band is still prone to sissiness, all right, if not a proverbial stone of Sisyphus. You want wimpy MOR Chicago songs in keeping with its commercial penchant? You’ve got those, too, and given the fresher context, they feel jarringly out of place.

Yet even with the schizoid posturing and the confusion, there’s some excellent music here. It’s also good to hear echoes of the group’s politically charged origins, via All the Years, with its sounds of students chanting “The whole world’s watching” at the 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago. Heck, I even like da funk of Mah-Jong.

Yet while this 1993 “lost” album is finally found and is rightfully embraced, let’s not get too carried away. It’s not the original Chicago — it’s not Terry Kath — because it can’t be, and it shouldn’t be.  But it is a fine record from a worthy band who deserved better than having to wait years for its release.

Sometimes I think record labels deserve more respect than they get. That certainly applies to Rhino right now, by getting this album to the public. But Warner Bros. in ’93? They blew it, just as they did with Lindsey Buckingham years later. Sometimes the artist is right and the label was wrong. This is one of those times.  

 

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