How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Donald Fagen (lead vocals, synthesizers, Rhodes, organ and other keyboards) and Walter Becker (bass, guitar and vocals) seem to more solidly hit stride on this second album in their comeback. This follow-up to Two Against Nature (2000), the Dan's first new studio recording in twenty years, seems more naturally and tightly woven than their previous effort and makes Nature sound more like the necessary knocking off of rust (Yeah, some rust: Since the release of Nature, Steely Dan was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and received the prestigious American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) Founders Award).
Becker and Fagen work with the same crackerjack jazz and rock session guitarists, keyboard players, horn players, and drummers as they did on Nature. But it almost doesn't matter who the musicians are - they're cards that Becker and Fagen have constantly shuffled anyway. The stars on this Steely Dan album, as always, are the Steely Dan songs. FM radio be damned: Don't believe that "The Last Mall" and "Blues Beach" are the two best tracks. The strength of this album lies elsewhere among these retro-futuristic tales of apocalypse, pornography, economic failure, dissolution, terrorism and other modern gargoyles, cast in intricately casual jazz lounge rock.
"Lunch with Gina" is the requisite femme fatale groove, a tight body rocker from Dan's supple yet sharp funk bag about a psychotically obsessive beauty. Other lyrics obscure just as many questions as they answer. "Godwhacker" sounds like it's either about God hunting down Satan or a murderous religious zealot (It is rather cool for a single song to suggest imagery from both The Sopranos and the "Whacking Day" episode of The Simpsons). "Green Book" sounds cut from Aja jazz-funk cloth, with a most propulsive bass line drilling straight into the cynical glint in Fagen's lyrical eye: "I'm so in love with this dirty city/ This crazy grid of desire/ The festive icons along the way/ The boardwalk, the lovers, the house on fire..."
Track Listing: The Last Mall; Things I Miss the Most; Blues Beach; Godwhacker; Slang of Ages; Green Book;
Pixeleen; Lunch with Gina; Everything Must Go
Personnel: Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboards), Walter Becker (bass, guitar, vocals), Keith Carlock (drums), Jon
Herington (guitar), Hugh McCracken (guitar), Ted Baker (piano), Tony Kadleck (trumpet), Jim Pugh
(trombone), Walt Weiskopf (alto sax), Roger Rosenberg (baritone sax), Cindy Mizelle (vocals),
Catherine Russell (vocals), Gordon Gottlieb (percussion), Michael Leonhart (trumpet), Carolyn
Leonhart (vocals), Bill Charlap (Rhodes), Tawatha Agee (vocals), Michael Harvey (vocals), Ada
Dyer (vocals), Ken Hitchcock (clarinet), Chris Potter (tenor sax), Brenda White-King (vocals)