Review Summary: A band with a lot of potential that would go on to great things unfortunately starts off with a mediocre record.
After The Broadways broke up, members Chris McCaugh and Brendan Kelly decided against going in a completely different direction, and stuck to writing melodic punk tunes with relatable lyrics and while it would eventually pay off as the band built on their sound, here it just sounds like rehashing old ideas and treading water. It's hard to differentiate between this album and a Broadways album besides the lack of three singers, and well the decline in quality. The Lawrence Arms had yet found their place writing gritty pop punk, and here continue with more standard melodic punk that they were already doing in The Broadways. A Guided Tour Of Chicago
boils down to a mediocre version of the record these guys made in their previous band, and it really doesn't show off their potential.
Unlike with The Broadways where Chris sang lead on about a third of the tracks, here he sings lead on zero tracks. He's limited to very minimal backing vocals and only major backing vocals in a couple songs like The Northside. Because of this this album lacks the variety of their later records and is considerably less catchy and melodic because Chris tends to write the more poppy tunes. With Chris mostly out of the picture this is Brendan's show. I speculate that Chris wasn't confident with his voice at the time and didn't want to sing lead in The Lawrence Arms, but later changed his mind when he got better and discovered auto-tune. Whatever the reasoning was, A Guided Tour Of Chicago
suffers for it.
The Northside is a really catchy song, and of course it's the one song where Chris makes has a major presence. It has some nice trade of vocals and is more reminiscent of The Lawrence Arms later work Oh! Calcutta!
This track is really the only one worth mentioning.
A Guided Tour Of Chicago is missing at least half of what makes The Lawrence Arms so great, and it's not particularly catchy or unique. The Lawrence Arms really didn't find their sound for another couple albums. They've had almost the complete opposite development cycle as fellow Chicago punk band Alkaline Trio, where the Trio started off with their best records and got progressively worse from there. I guess it's better to start off rough and get better from there, and that's really the best thing I can say about this record. I'd only recommend it for die hard Lawrence Arms fans.