Walter Becker, “Door Number Two” from Circus Money (2008): One Track Mind

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Sometimes, it actually pays to sign up for e-mail distribution lists. A couple of years ago I did just that for Walter Becker’s website so I could get updates on the progress of his upcoming solo project. The other day I get an e-mail informing me that this long-awaited album, to be called Circus Money, was about to unleash. Best of all, a link was provided to pre-order the CD to ship five days before the official release date, along with an immediate free download mp3 of a track from said CD. Such a deal.

Walter Becker, as some may not know, is the “silent” guy of the Steely Dan duo. He’s actually much more than that, but for time being, this is what we’ll run with. When I get my hands on the disc a few weeks from now, there will be a full review forthcoming and I’ll fill you all in on the details about this man of music then for those who weren’t apprised.

However, I’ve got one song, “Door Number Two,” in my possession right now. I’ve got first impressions and this here webzine as a pulpit. Might as well tell everyone what I think about it at this moment.

So how is it?


To be sure, it’s got all the classic Steely Dan touchstones on it: a sultry, four-strong female vocal chorus handling the refrain; a snarky view at society’s moral excesses (in this instance, it would appear to be addiction to gambling but with Becker, one can’t be too sure); jazzy chord progressions; and most importantly, studio preciseness. Those things, plus Chris Potter’s sax on the instrumental break and a tight, reggae groove save this from being a bad song. To make a bad song, Becker would really have to be trying, but then again, I’m a little biased when it comes to Steely Dan.

On the other hand, my biases still can’t shield me from realizing that this is a mediocre song.

The lyrics are ok but just not up to Walter Becker’s usual standard of deftly employing obscure literary references and subtle, crafty quips. Maybe sharing the songwriting duties with Larry Klein had something to do with that. The production, provided by Klein—the same genius who did wonders on Herbie Hancock’s The Joni Letters last year—didn’t give this track enough heft. Angular arrangements are usually wonderful, but this just sounds too light.

That’s not a major gripe, though; it’s Becker’s vocals that’s the biggest downfall. It took a while, but I grew fond of the weary, carefree lead vocal of 1994’s 11 Tracks Of Whack. Klein sanitized his voice to the point where it sounds like a thinner version of Becker’s erstwhile partner Donald Fagen (and Fagen’s singing is thin to begin with). And then as if to try to hide it, Walt’s vocal is buried in the mix. I’d just soon not hear any vocal than one requiring me to strain to hear it.

I’m still hopeful that I’ll have good news to report for the entire album; some Walter Becker/Steely Dan songs take a while to sink in and another track, “Somebody’s Saturday Night,” sounded much better when I heard the stream that came with Becker’s Rolling Stone interview.

Like the wry observations made in “Door Number Two,” I’m betting (wishing?) that the rest of Circus Money comes up three bars.

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