Steely Dan Sunday, “What A Shame About Me” (2000)

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*** STEELY DAN SUNDAY INDEX ***

Here’s the setup: A self-pitying tale about a promising life wasted at the onset of middle age having chance encounter with an old flame who became rich and famous. “What A Shame About Me” has rich narrative recounting a conversation between the former lovers, cast very much like a real-life chat but set to fluid prose. That’s big boy songwriting, folks.

Once again — and more to come on this album — Becker and Fagen draw on references to places in their beloved New York City (“Jane Street,” “NYU,” “Lower Broadway,” etc.). The lyrics are full of that Steely Dan sharp wit, but this one has the added bonus of lyrics married so well to the harmony. The verses are bluesy as Franny’s tales of success puts the narrator’s own failings in sharp relief. As the conversational ball is put in his court and he matter-of-factly speaks of rehab, giving up on writing a novel and regulated to working at a record store, the descending minor chords kick in on cue.

The other thing that works so well is the featured soloist. Becker, I feel, is very fine lead guitar player when placed in material that matches his blues-based background; he’s not in the Swiss Army knife class of Larry Carlton, Dean Parks and Jon Herington, but then, few truly are. For that reason, the apparent decision to make him the exclusive guitar soloist for Two Against Nature yields mixed results, and “Shame” is one of those tunes that suits him to a “T.”

The key, hinted above, is that this is a more-or-less a blues song, and the sad-sack sentiment of the lyrics is borne out on Becker’s bent notes and like on a few other occasions during the classic SD years, the soloist gets to noodle around Fagen’s vocal lines, not just in the instrumental break. Every time they’ve done that it’s been a win, and “What A Shame About Me” wins big.

If “Gaslighting Abbie” somehow didn’t make the case for Steely Dan regaining that old magic, then “Shame” surely did.

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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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  • Scott Stuit

    Not to mention the shout out in this song to those of us former record store employees with “stacking cut-outs at the Strand”. Believe In Music (1987-1990) Grand Rapids, MI.

  • Guys, “The Strand” is a famous bookstore on Broadway. They don’t sell records, but according to the awning house “18 miles of books”. A “cutout” is a book that’s had a hole-punched in it because its deadstock, to be returned to the publisher or sold at a heavily-discounted price.

  • Doc Mu

    That first 18 sec is pure heaven. The snare is too high in the mix (again) afterwards to the point of irritation, but this is another elegant track. The chorus is scatted is such a cool way, and then there is one of those killer Fagen bridges.

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