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OctaneHugo 04-21-2010 03:28 PM

Any Major Dude Will Tell You: A Dizzying Travel Through the Steely Dan Discography
 
Steely Dan are an odd band. They toured only once at a time when most major rock bands were hitting every city they could find, it seems like just about everybody played for them (as 'them' refers to two guys from Jersey after the second album) at one point or another and they never receive too much attention. They've toured quite a bit in the past 15 years - worldwide, to boot! - and they've released two albums of entirely new material over the past 10, but nobody ever mentions them in bands that changed the way they listened to music, or inspired them. Oh, sure, there's a dedicated following, but they're a lot less vocal than, say, fans of David Bowie or those who adore Billy Joel. Strange for a band with plenty of critical AND commercial success; eight of their nine studio albums are certified at least Gold.

But perhaps this is fitting, since the two musical geniuses who are the band were never really at the forefront of anything, either, even though they are a band. It's been acknowledged by the band themselves: one Genius didn't play much lead guitar on that first run in the '70's because he's a nervous person; he simply wanted to play bass in the background. A second vocalist recorded two songs on the debut album and sang every song during the early stages of touring because the other Genius suffered from incredible stage fright; he wanted nothing more than to sit behind his keyboard and stare at it for two hours of showtime.

Both are perfectionists: this is very well documented. One album was deemed unlistenable by both of them due to faulty equipment; both casuals and audiophiles alike agree there is nothing wrong with any of the recordings.

Their lyrics make obscure, odd references to people, places and things; so much so that an entire site has been written by one fan to enlighten everyone on what the hell a "baion" is.

They use odd time signatures and have a large, rotating group of session musicians backing them up: maybe it's just to throw everyone off, keep the audience on their toes.

In the end, of course, none of this matters and none of it is written in a negative manner, meant to insult or defame anyone or anything. The music is wonderful, the lyrics thick with symbolism and meaning, and here it is with great pleasure that I provide reviews of every album in the Steely Dan discography. And, much like the band, who knows what will happen: maybe there will be some surprises? Join me under the banyan tree near my a-frame and sip a black cow; let's chase the dragon together.

INDEX
Can't Buy a Thrill (1972) - PART 1 PART 2
Countdown to Ecstasy (1973) - PART 1 PART 2 PART 3
Pretzel Logic (1974) - UNREVIEWED
Katy Lied (1975) - UNREVIEWED
The Royal Scam (1976) - UNREVIEWED
Aja (1977) - UNREVIEWED
Gaucho (1980) - UNREVIEWED
Two Against Nature (2000) - UNREVIEWED
Everything Must Go (2003) - UNREVIEWED

To break my (hopefully) eclectic mix of formal-yet-informal style, I'm going to set some groundwork on the reviews here:

-I dislike number ratings; they're too arbitrary and one person's 8 is another person's 6 which is another's 9. They're convenient, but inaccurate and, usually, a pretty piss-poor way to go about things. I'll whip something up to make everything a bit less daunting, but I do endorse actually reading the reviews I'll be shaming myself with, so we'll see where the road takes us.

-I don't have an update schedule, as I don't feel I need one. And even if I DID establish one, I'd just be terrible at following it and all 3 people who like Steely Dan would be angry (I hope). I'll get these out with some amount of regularity and when it's done it's done.

-Try to avoid going for +1 post count and comment both on the possible accuracy of the reviews and the quality of what I'm writing.

And that's that. A review of Can't Buy a Thrill will be out sometime before Saturday. I don't know when I want to post it yet. See you then.

TheBig3 04-21-2010 04:09 PM

Thank God someones doing this. I don't know **** about these guys and I'd really like to.

Edit: Also, the way you've picked up the motion of the forums I'd swear you were a veteran come back with a new name.

tore 04-21-2010 04:38 PM

Hmm, how to avoid the +1 post? I too am looking forward to this. I've listened to a bit of Steely Dan, mainly Can't Buy A Thrill and Aja and they are excellent albums. Still, I'd like to get a bit more into them and so I'm looking forward to your reviews.

I think a possible reason they're not mentioned much here is perhaps because they're a "daddy band", the sort of music fathers listen to which may not have appearant appeal to young people. That's my hypothesis at least which also explains the lack of discussions/mentions on Dire Straits on these boards .. :p:

duga 04-21-2010 04:50 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by tore (Post 854396)
I think a possible reason they're not mentioned much here is perhaps because they're a "daddy band", the sort of music fathers listen to which may not have appearant appeal to young people. That's my hypothesis at least which also explains the lack of discussions/mentions on Dire Straits on these boards .. :p:

I think you are completely right about this. Even their name sounds like something my dad would listen to (and not in a good way). That doesn't mean I myself haven't been curious about them...I really have absolutely no experience with this band. I'm looking forward to this!

And I agree with Big3, I always enjoy seeing new stayers. Even in my short time here, it's amazing how fast people come and go. I think it gets intimidating for a lot of people since the regulars know so much about music. But that may just be my inflated ego when it comes to music related stuff. Maybe we are all just really boring...

mr dave 04-21-2010 05:18 PM

i found that i had to get into jazz before i was able to get into Steely Dan, and i'm still not 'that' into them. wouldn't be surprised if that's one of the big factors that keeps casual listeners away.

either way i'm looking forward to proper reviews from someone who actually fits into this place as opposed to some random on the net. i know i snagged a copy of Aja from my old man's record collection years ago, same with whatever album has Bodhisattva on it.

and while i might share a blunt with the people and agree that black cows are awesome, i'm really not down on chasing the dragon. :p:

Bulldog 04-22-2010 04:23 PM

Man, some really good-looking threads have popped up here lately. I might have to hop on the discography thread bandwagon again myself :D

I love Steely Dan, so can't wait for you to get the ball rolling here. Good luck with the thread.

SATCHMO 04-22-2010 05:37 PM

It's about time someone took this on.

About a month ago I actually got a chance to see something I never thought I would:

A Steely Dan cover band.

They were amazing, and the first set of their performance was them covering Aja in it's entirety, note for note, flawlessly. Even their back up singers were on point. I usually hate the mere idea of a cover band, but these guys had their **** together. It definitely made up for never getting to see Steely Dan live.

Aswad Vogelenzang 04-23-2010 11:11 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SATCHMO (Post 855188)
It definitely made up for never getting to see Steely Dan live.

I love The Dan but I walked out on them live. Awful. We live in a capitalist society so all art is tained to an extent but the joyless, dead eyed, everyone sit down, clap occasionally and give us your money so Walt can keep his Hawaiian estate going bull**** fest was truly dreadful. I'd imagined court martialed soldiers have gone to the firing squad wall with more enthusiasm than these guys put out on stage.

Still I'll be keeping an eye out for this thread and interjecting when I have something to add.

loveissucide 04-24-2010 05:32 AM

That Steely Dan dictionary is made of win.

OctaneHugo 04-24-2010 06:12 PM

http://i39.tinypic.com/6y05rr.jpg

Can't Buy a Thrill
1972
Debut Album


I heavily advise against becoming used to what you see and hear on Can't Buy a Thrill. For one thing, they're an "actual band" here: that will end after the next album. Second, there's two vocalists: Fa‎gen and a fellow named David Palmer, whose musical career adds up to mainly behind-the-scenes stuff. Third, there's only a few session musicians here, most of them for background vocals. Oh, and the music is quite a bit different from what would come next.


Note: It's a song-by-song review so it's not as ridiculously overwhelming as it seems.

Side One
"Do It Again" (5:56)

The album leads off with the immortal "Do It Again". This pretty much sets the bar for the rest of the discography; it's odd, it's skillfully played, and hell if you know what the lyrics are about. However, it does deviate from this in one way: it nailed 6 on the charts. I've no idea how this happened, but it did, and it's behind only one other single in the entire discography in terms of chart position. Guess that keeps with the "odd" theme.

So, how is the song odd? Well, it opens with a one minute instrumental opening consisted of scattered sitar runs, a catchy keyboard rhythm, some strange percussion and something that I think might be a washboard but I honestly have no idea what it is playing early on. There's also a nifty bass line that fits in tremendously well with everything else; if you don't listen for it, you won't hear it. Oh, and there's some odd-sounding chimes at the end of this segment as well.

And then the vocals start and it's all about gunning in the morning for water thieves and hangmen not hanging and mourners singing and dragging and oh god what is this. The vocals, in my opinion, are the best part of the song except maybe the sitar solo - and I really stress the maybe. I love the vocal work here. Fa‎‎gen mispronounces words so they rhyme and provides a vivid-yet-vague picture of what's going on and oh they're just wonderful. I think I could write this whole review about this song. Hell, the whole thing about the first verse. The sitar solo. Maybe I should break this into parts?

Enough of that! More oddness follows the first verse and the chorus (another thing I could write a 42 page paper on) and more singing and then we reach the sitar solo! Quite a long one, too, and it's eye-popping. The player is Denny Dias, who'd appear on most Dan albums of this era, and boy is he on fire. Tears it up. I could listen to this thing just looped over and over.

But then the organ solo starts. Ah, the organ solo. Fa‎‎gen uses a technique called "pitch-shifting" and as much as I'd love to say I know stuff about keyboards and organs and pianos I honestly don't! It's a neat effect though, and it's certainly odd as well.

Then there's another long outro with more great sitar and keyboards and bass and all that. There's also some very, VERY understated sitar runs going down during the verses as well, and you really have to hear them when you give the song a listen. Brilliant stuff.

"Dirty Work" (3:08)
The odd stuff continues with "Dirty Work"; well, it's odd for Steely Dan. Palmer sings lead here and he is a smooth singing guy...but his voice doesn't really fit with Steely Dan at all(when I try to imagine him singing stuff like "Do It Again" I cringe and have to cry myself to sleep). The two are stylistically exclusive; Band and Palmer together isn't a good combination. The song itself is OK, though, but it does get on one's nerves after repeated listens. Repetitive in a bad way, and the lyrics aren't particularly deep or memorable (nowhere near as fantastic as "Do It Again"'s). Nothing interesting done with the instruments here, either; sure, the horns are all well and good at first, but then they just get that "ick" feeling and the keyboard-drum combo that goes down during the verses combines with Palmer's voice to create the musical equivalent of Ambien.

The chorus, though. Ooh, the chorus. I love it. So much. I could sing it all day. Steely D sure know how to make the sweetest hooks ever; and this album is straight up pop/RnB, especially when compared to their other albums, so it's particularly infectious here, especially in this song. III don't waaaaanna doooo yo-ahr dirteh work, a-no mooooore....

"Kings" (3:46)
Now THIS is a fun song! Leads off with a brilliantly simple piano hook, then some filthy guitar and more keyboards, and then Fa‎‎gen starts wailing away and you know it's gonna be a fun ride. The verses have a crazy-great call-back sort-of thing going on between some high-pitched piano chords and Fa‎‎gen's singing. The guitar keeps going on and it's just fantastic; Elliot Randall: session musician, ladies and gentlemen. He has a fantastic solo that starts around 2:15 and it makes you want to jump up and air guitar and dance and cure cancer all at the same time. As per usual with Dan's early stuff, Becker's bass is going at it in the background - if you can get a handle on it (you'll only ever catch some passing glimpses of it; it's like a unicorn!) you'll adore it and realize how great a player he really is.

The lyrics here are about as brilliant as it gets on the album, which is tremendously brilliant. The tale of King Richard and Good King John and sad old men who run this town laying down their bodies and the starving people sarcastically raising glasses and remembering the blue blood and rain and IT'S ABOUT NIXON! OK, so it might be about Nixon, or at least it's a popular theory (that's about as good as you're going to get with Dan's lyrics: a popular theory. Run with it) "King Richard" certainly fits, though I'm not sure if "King John" refers to any specific person; it could be the collective Nixon Administration (excluding Nixon himself) or it might just be tossed in because, hey, it's a song. It's really a great song; the solo is just more show-offy stuff from Steely Dan. I like to think songs like this and "Do It Again" are just on here so they can display that they're damn good at writing songs and playing their instruments and they're going to be around a while. Well, 2 of them are, anyway (sort of 3).

"Midnight Cruiser" (4:08)
This is one sung by Jim Hodder, who was lead drummer this album. Hell if I know why he sang this; either Fa‎gen had an extreme case of stage fright and couldn't even sing too much in the studio, or if money was involved (probably), or maybe if Becker was supposed to sing this but was too hopped up on amphetamines (pretty out there, but might have happened) - I'm not really sure. I know it's a pretty good song with a...choppy opening. There's some crashing of the cymbals and a piano, but then it messily segues into a really cool bass-piano-guitar thing that leads into the verse. I love the last part, but the very opening just doesn't seem to fit. I don't like it.

The bass is strangely prevalent here. You can pretty much here it the whole time, especially during the chorus. It sounds almost Who-like, but The Who when they made Quadrophenia and such. Maybe. I can't quite put my finger on where I've heard it before. The keyboard work is pretty ace here (as it always is), and the guitar is sort of...crammed in. The opening section I mentioned that they repeat a couple of times is good, but overall it seems like an afterthought. Even the solo is kind of sad, especially compared to the ones present on the other songs - I just spent 25 minutes talking about "King"'s fantastic solo, and then this one comes on. It starts off pretty slow then does a cool little thing near the end that it repeats way too much, then does that crappy screeching-off-into-the-chorus effect I detest, and it's just all meh.

I like Hodder's vocals. If he made a band and was lead singer I'd be cool with it. I love his voice during the verses; it's kind of sneery, but not like Fa‎gen's. At the same time it's also very soothing. It's almost like someone combined Palmer's and Fa‎gen's voice boxes and this was the result. I like it. It's not annoying like Palmer's and it's got the good qualities of Fa‎gen's. It fits well with the song. I really like it overall, though the chorus seems a little too much like a "Come on audience, sing along with us!" thing. Like that was the effect they were aiming for when they recorded it. The verses are perfect, though.

The lyrics are alright. I'm fairly sure it's about drugs; "Felonius" is an old friend and the narrator welcomes him in. Then there's talk of madness running together and streets unseen found somehow, and bounties of fortune and fame and gentlemen losers and Harlem. Then the last verse gets even darker and more depressing about smiles long gone and time passing. Strong conflict to the upbeat-yet-at-the-same-time-depressing rhythm of the whole thing.

Also, what's with the 14 second fadeout? It's annoying. There's cool drum work at the end that I can barely hear because of it. Go away, long fadeout. You are not welcome here.


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