With four gold multi-disc LPs and twice as many hit singles to its credit, Chicago issued its fifth effort, the first to clock in at under an hour. What they lack in quantity, they more than make up for in the wide range of quality of material. The disc erupts with the progressive free-form "A Hit by Varese" -- which seems to have been inspired as much by Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Tarkus (1971) or Yes circa Close to the Edge (1972) as by the Parisian composer for whom it is named. Fully 80 percent of the material on Chicago V (1972) is also a spotlight for the prolific songwriting of Robert Lamm (keyboards/vocals). In addition to penning the opening rocker, he is also responsible for the easy and airy "All Is Well," which is particularly notable for its lush Beach Boys-esque harmonies. However, Lamm's most memorable contributions are undoubtedly the Top Ten sunshine power pop anthem "Saturday in the Park" and the equally upbeat and buoyant "Dialogue, Pt. 1" and "Dialogue, Pt. 2." Those more accessible tracks are contrasted by James Pankow's (trombone/percussion) aggressive jazz fusion "Now That You've Gone." Although somewhat dark and brooding, it recalls the bittersweet "So Much to Say, So Much to Give" and "Anxiety's Moment" movements of "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon" found on Chicago II.
Terry Kath's (guitar/vocals) heartfelt ballad "Alma Mater" seems to be influenced by a Randy Newman sensibility. Lyrically, it could be interpreted as an open letter to his generation; lines such as "Looking back a few short years/When we made our plans and played the cards/The way they fell/Clinging to our confidence/We stood on the threshold of the goal/That we knew, dear" effectively recall the monumental world events that had taken place during the late '60s and early '70s. Likewise, there is an undeniable one-on-one intimated in the verse "And though we had our fights/Had our short tempered nights/It couldn't pull our dreams apart/All our needs and all our wants/Drawn together in our heart/We felt it from the very start." This is a fitting way to conclude the album, if not the entire troubled era. [Due to the time constraints of a single-disc LP, Chicago never issued a studio version of the mini political epic "A Song for Richard and His Friends." It had been worked up and performed live while touring behind Chicago III (1971), and appears as a standout on the much maligned At Carnegie Hall, Vols. 1-4 (Chicago IV) four-disc concert package (1971). Some reissues of Chicago V included among its supplemental materials an eight-plus minute instrumental studio version of the track. Also featured as "bonus selections" were a seminal rendering of Kath's powerhouse "Mississippi Delta City Blues" -- which would be shelved for nearly five years before turning up on Chicago XI (1977) -- and the 45 rpm edit of "Dialogue, Pts. 1-2."]