The real charm of 11 Tracks of Whack is not how much it sounds like classic Steely Dan, but how much it distances itself from it. All the while, it retains all of Becker’s cunning wordsmith and unexpected chord changes that, ironically, helped to make SD such a high quality rock band. Certainly, it’s hard to envision Becker’s “Cringemaker” being in any Steely Dan record after Pretzel Logic or Katy Lied, and may have only possibly worked in the freewheeling Countdown To Ecstasy.
It’s got the same groove as “Hey Nineteen,” but the keyboard mixed way back and the Nashville twangy guitars up front set this miles apart from the overall antiseptic vibe of Gaucho. Maybe that’s the influence of the song’s cowriter Dean Parks, but in spite of the straightforward strut of this song, Becker manages to slip in changes you probably wouldn’t find crafted anywhere in Tennessee. Another tale of a domestic bliss disintegrated into domestic disquiet (“Cringemaker, up on the second floor/Cringemaker, who locked the bedroom door”), Becker sounds hurt but philosophical about it; this thinking man of rock is always philosophical, no matter the emotion he’s feeling.
“Cringemaker” is also one of the crisper production jobs of the record, not sounding so obviously like the early 90s as other Whack tracks, boasting a delightfully loose Becker solo and his rock solid bass. But that “Hey Nineteen” groove is still the best part about the song. When the main singing’s done, Becker, Parks & Co. swerve into a righteous riff and rides that out for a minute into the fade. Becker can be heard muttering “yeah, now buzz a while” and strums on a tremolo guitar to add a touch of country soul to it; no solos, everyone is just chillin’. Man, I just love that moment.