It’s hard to know what to expect from a band after an absence of nearly two decades, but safe to say that this new batch of Steely Dan songs takes a little while to grow on the listener. Some just don’t work: "What a Shame About Me" tells a compelling tale but gets bogged down in the chorus; "Janie Runaway" and "Cousin Dupree" are plain annoying. But Becker & Fagen’s signature airtight funk is all over the record, and some of the grooves are irresistible. "Jack of Speed" and the shimmying 6/4 title cut are standouts. And "Almost Gothic" will win you over: "She’s pure science with a splash of black cat/ She’s almost gothic and I like it like that."
Becker plays nearly all the lead guitar, which is a switch. He’s masterful with brief, tasty fills, but leaves one hungering for Larry Carlton or Steve Khan. On the other hand, Chris Potter blows substantial tenor on "Gaslighting Abbie" and "West of Hollywood," and his alto spot on "Janie Runaway" nearly redeems the song. Vinnie Colaiuta plays drums on the odd-but-good "Negative Girl." Trumpeter Michael Leonhart and vibraphonist Dave Schenk squeeze highly effective eight-bar solos into "Almost Gothic" and "Negative Girl," respectively. And studio guitar wizards Hugh McCracken and Dean Parks rear their heads on a track apiece.
By the standards of their previous work, Two Against Nature
isn’t a great Steely Dan album. But as long as they’ve still got the urge, more power to them.