A romantic, tear-jerking ballad is the last kind of song anyone would expect from Walter Becker. “Book Of Liars” is a ballad alright, but the other two adjectives don’t apply, not when Becker is telling his subject about what a legendary bullshitter she is.
On the notes for Alive In America, the song’s narrative is decoded, if you want to call it that: “Betrayal in the ‘burbs. Blue Xmas. Faux Afrique, c’est chic. Triadic. Tribadic.” Three verses each with a different slant: one of a romance unraveling under the weight of deception uncovered; another of an inebriated St. Nick staggering his way through his annual ritual; and lastly, self-reflection probably in the wake of the previously discussed breakup, as related via another instance of Becker’s deliciously oblique verses (made even more so in that he didn’t sing them exactly how they were printed on the CD sleeve).
This might be the best known cut on 11 Tracks of Whack by virtue of the fact that it also appeared the next year on Steely Dan’s live album, and I’m getting a little ahead of myself in drawing comparisons between the versions, but briefly, the better one is still ahead of us in this series. The album version suffers some from the cheesy sounding keys and a programmed pulse, but on the plus side, Bob Sheppard’s sax solo is comely and Becker’s tender vocal is his best singing performance on the whole album.
In an experimentally inclined album of wild rides and sharp left turns, “Book Of Liars” is an oasis of calm. It proves that Becker not only has a gentle side, but he can go there with his flair intact for creating both prose and melodies with sharp intellect.