Steely Dan – Everything Must Go (2003)

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by S. Victor Aaron

After pulling off what could pass as one of the most improbable comebacks in rock history, Steely Dan re-emerges a mere three years later with another serious effort, Everything Must Go.

SD modified its approach to this album somewhat to set it apart from the prior, Grammy-winning Two Against Nature, by going back to analog recording and relying less on overdubbing, to create a warmer, livelier sound. There are a few other minor surprises here, too, more on this later.

A collection bookended by two songs about going out of business, there is the current economic weakness on guitarist Walter Becker and keyboardist/vocalist Donald Fagen’s minds, but the usual theme of moderately twisted or flawed relationships and coping with advancing age are still the more dominant themes.

A rundown, track by track:

1) The Last Mall: A straightforward rendering of the impending demise of a dubious American institution, with a upbeat rhythm track lifted right out of Fagan’s old solo hit, “IGY”.

2) Things I Miss The Most: Reflecting on the pro’s and con’s of a recently ended relationship, it almost appears to be an excuse to throw in references to the finer things in life (“comfy Eames chair”, “Audi TT”, “’54 Strat”, and oh yeah, “sex”). Fagen sums up the mixed feelings when he croons “the days really don’t last forever, but it’s getting pretty damned close”.

3) Blues Beach: Yet another gleeful sounding song with apocalyptic lyrics that belie the pep. What the heck is a “paranymphic glider”, though??

4) Godwhacker: Strongly reminiscent of the fast paced “Green Flower Street” from Fagen’s ‘The Nightfly,’ the boys take deadly aim at theism.

5) Slang Of Ages: Becker’s first lead vocal in 31+ years of SD recording history. Not quite bad enough to disrupt the vibe of the album; in fact, the theme of an older guy trying desperately to relate to a girl from a younger generation suits his sleazy, slightly off-key delivery fine. But he is wisely kept away from the mike elsewhere.

6) Green Book: This steamy rendering of computer sex is a fun tune to listen to closely, with subtle diversions from the melody and the sophisticated, layered instrumentation. Another first: a synthesizer/guitar dual between Becker and Fagan!

7) Pixeleen: A tale of a typical teenaged girl who leads a double life as a comic book style hero. OK, forget the silly lyrics, it’s still a killer melody. Featured backing vocals superbly performed by Carolyn Leonhart.

8 ) Lunch with Gina: Crusaders-style rhythm guitars set the stage for another snappy track. Our narrator seems to have trouble avoiding afternoon rendezvous’ with an attractive but obnoxious female acquaintance.

9) Everything Must Go: A false introduction is performed “A Love Supreme”-style with saxman Walt Weiskopf stating the bridge over a drummer not keeping time. The “real” song depicts a sudden victim of the dotcom bust delivered with enough convincing melancholy that even Sinatra could feel right at home covering this.

Only when the song’s protagonist assures his minions that it’s “cozy down below” and admits the road less traveled was never taken does the trademark Becker/Fagan cynical irony rears its head. As with the prior go around, Becker supplies all the guitar leads, but at least it’s getting better. Sultry female backing vocals with well-placed horns rounded out by crisp but loose drumming, tight rhythm guitars, and the emphasis on organ, piano and electric piano over synths make for another tasteful, well-executed (if familiar) effort.

Despite a handful of twists, the basic plot remains the same. In the end, masterminds Walter Becker and Donald Fagen don’t really stray much from the jazz/blues/rock/lite funk studio perfection formula of 1977’s landmark Aja.

In contrast to 2vN, Everything is less harmonically complex, with most songs sporting more hooks than a tackle box. In the vinyl age, this album would have spun off at least three or four entries in the Top 40.

But being frozen in time isn’t really a virtue in the realm of pop music…unless you are still bringing quality music to the table that anyone else has yet to replicate.

Unless, that is, you’re Steely Dan.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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