Stone of Sisyphus
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2008, Volume 15, #7
Written by John Metzger
Mon July 14, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Fame and fortune can combine to have a weird effect on bands. As the í70s mutated into the í80s, Chicago was absurdly successful at crafting singles that were immensely popular. The problem, however, was that in the process of becoming a top-selling, arena-ready act, Chicago essentially had developed a terribly formulaic approach to recording. Essentially, it swapped the ingenuity of its early years for an increasingly bland slate of power ballads: Just You ínĎ Me begat If You Leave Me Now, which, in turn, yielded Youíre the Inspiration and Hard Habit to Break. Its pursuits were lucrative, of course, but the group was left feeling dissatisfied with its output.
In the wake of a serious bout of soul-searching, Chicago had every intention of regaining its creative spark in 1993 when it began work on what was supposed to be its 22nd endeavor. The outfit not only redeployed the full-throated roar of its horn section, but it also sculpted arrangements for its songs that were considerably more complex than the music it had made over the course of the previous decade. Upon completing the effort, Chicago presented the album to the executives at Warner Bros., but their reaction was anything but favorable. After a series of delays, the outing eventually was shelved, and the band subsequently parted ways with its longstanding label.
Bits and pieces of the album have since come to market via bonus tracks and solo endeavors. As a whole, however, the project has lain dormant, even as its reputation has grown. Fifteen years after it originally was scuttled, the outing has been reborn as Stone of Sisyphus (XXXII), and it is immediately apparent how enthusiastic Chicago was about its new material. Throughout the set, the band not only addressed the corporate culture that had infiltrated the music industry, but it also bemoaned the loss of í60s ideals. Musically, Chicagoís horn section returned to the forefront of its songs, and the intricately layered arrangements, at times, evoked the sorts of movements and suites that once dotted the bandís progressive rock-tinged landscape.
Nevertheless, it is, in hindsight, difficult to comprehend why such a fuss was made in 1993 about the release of Stone of Sisyphus (XXXII). Although it was significantly more adventurous than anything that Chicago had concocted in more than a decade, it also didnít completely abandon the outfitís pop-oriented tendencies. Despite the presence of The Jordanaires, Bigger than Elvis wasnít a grand departure from the tepid ballads for which Chicago had become quite well known. Letís Take a Lifetime fared even worse. Likewise, the setís layers of synthesizers and keyboards as well as its dance-friendly, R&B-laden grooves were sculpted to fit within the framework of commercial radio during the early 1990s.
There is no doubt that in the current musical climate Stone of Sisyphus (XXXII) sounds seriously dated. Though it still has merit ó the frenetic blasts of horns that slip and slide through the title track as well as the driving funk of Mah-Jong, for example ó the album failed to recapture all of the magic of Chicagoís first few endeavors. Stone of Sisyphus (XXXII) certainly was a step in the right direction, but it hardly could be considered a classic outing because Chicago didnít go nearly far enough to rejuvenate its stagnant career ó then or now.
Of Further Interest...
Stone of Sisyphus (XXXII) is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box