Over at one of the boards devoted to the band Chicago, there was a question regarding eras in the band. The question was whether or not the years 1986-1994 constitute and era. Here is my response.
I actually do consider 86-94 a distinct era...and here's why.
86-92 (with Jason and Dawayne in the band, keep the *rock* aspect of CHI alive) saw the band continuing in the vein started by Foster/Cetera: less horns, more ballads, culminating in the Arsenio performance of "You Come to My Senses." I think after that (and the zero performances of any tune from 21 in concert) that the band decided to go to the studio and make a record they wanted to make, not a record (a la 21) that the suits wanted them to make. Granted, 21 has some signs of what SOS was to be (If It Were You, God Save the Queen, Who Do You Love) but way too many songs that was the "typical Chicago sound" of the 1980s.
So they all get in a studio with a producer and create something from their heart and soul. Songs that rocked (SOS, The Pull); songs with heart (BTE, HWM); songs with rap (SITMOTBA); songs with funk (Mah-Jong); songs with a message (CFTL, ATY); songs as close to hard rock/metal that they'll ever get (GOT); and even a now traditional ballad (LTAL). Chicago 22 had it all. They loved it, they were proud of it. It was, to me, the most personal album Chicago had made since VII (when they basically made an LP for themselves [1st] and an LP for the radio [2nd]). SOS was the most adventurous CD since VII. They were ready to redefine themselves as a rock band.
Then, the suits knocked CHI to their knees. The suits shelved the CD because 'it didn't sound like Chicago.' I bet these were the suits who thought 16 was CHI's first album. The band's reaction was where we are now. Dawayne left CHI and, to me, Chicago ceased to become a ROCK band with horns. CHI then became, I hate to admit it, an oldies act. Their soul was gone. Now, they just went through the motions.
Granted that N&D and 25 showed incredible talent in arranging and performing (N&D tour was awesome, especially the unplugged part) but the band's heart was not in it. Even the '2 New Songs' from the HOC and XXVI CDs (good songs, mind you) were cut from the 'now traditional Chicago sound' mold. And then, with XXX, you did get some decent songs (tracks 7-12) that harken back to the good old days. But you can tell where the focus was: the new, traditional Chicago sound (tracks 1-7). I mean, serious, why would you *even* create a single by *Chicago* without horns?
These guys are immensely talented. Just witness the various solo CDs. But as far as Chicago goes, they are taking it easy. And, shoot, why not? They are in their 60s and make a great living playing great songs to great fans.
So, yeah, to me, 86-94 was an era. And now we're in another era: 95-end. But no matter what, this band is, and will forever remain, my favorite band.