Steely Dan – Everything Must Go

Ah, the Dan… where would the 70s be without them? But watch out, they snare and draw you in with their studio smarts and pop cleverness! A dialogic review.

A dialogue with Adam Rivett contributing.

This must be a sign of something: I’m listening to Everything Must Go (from 2003). I see what you mean about the Beckerblues overplayed on the current live show… this album is littered with light-blues fills. And he plays bass all over it too: nice Sadowksy sounds according to the credits, but not that good a groove feel. 

The attached dvd is a larf of mock staged-seriousness, B and F cruising Las Vegas in a taxi and fielding suspiciously scripted questions from the driver and passengers.

The album sounds too crispydigital and yet live in the studio. It’s like a beautiful sore, I can’t turn away (for the moment) or help picking it. And somehow it makes me want to listen to Prince instead.

I’m even risking my cred on the bassforums by waffling about it….:

“It’s a very clean-sounding record (almost cold and efficiently mixed, even by Dan standards) and Becker is a bit of a rote-bassist, or bassist-by numbers who lacks the feel and innate groove of a Chuck Rainey.

But it’s mixed for clarity. You get a good sense of how the Sadowsky bass blends in with the whole. Becker plays with a pick (to my ears) and plays like a guitarist doubling on bass … you know, there’s a lightness of touch and no dirt/groove (like when the guitarist picks up your bass and tries to show some line).”

But it’s all hifi stuff.

It’s a lowlight, career-wise. It’s funny, as I was thinking about this record on Saturday. Tilting my head to the left and scanning my shelf for something to listen to, I saw the record in question and immediately thought about the rinky-dink tinniness of the intro to The Last Mall – that little guitar lick that slides in before the band enters. It’s so funny, so quasi-lame. Still, quintessential black-girl back-up vocals on the chorus. The two best tracks on the record are the last two – I loved the white-funk and melodicism of Lunch With Gina on my first listen, and the title track, which closes the record – well, it’s a nice shuffle, the plug-the-gaps sax noodling, the typical obtuse/sleazy Fagen lyrics (that whole verse about Dave from acquisitions and the handycam in tow). It locks into that slow blues and stays there for five minutes. Enjoyable.

Alas, Becker’s first vocal ever on a Dan record feels strained – though I do love the female chorus voices on Slang of Ages.

It is too crisp, I agree. After the perfect balance of song / production / chops of Aja, they pushed harder and harder for a perfect songsheen – making soloists perform to digital clicks instead of against tape, thinning the kick of a drum or the fuzz of a guitar out. Now it’s like this machine of a thousand pieces working together perfectly – astonishing, and a little soulless. They really have travelled a million miles from the unlabelability of Countdown to Ecstasy or Pretzel Logic. They’re the records I really love.

One more thing – even with the occasionally naff new stuff, Becker and Fagen are glorious melody-writers. Just listen to Third World Man, Almost Gothic and What A Shame About Me [off Two Against Nature] – all songs suffering under the “new production style”, but all both instantly memorable and hummably indestructible. To write songs that good is a real talent.

What got me was Becker in that dvd, right at the start, saying this was ‘a real party album‘ or such. No irony, no dryness, straight out.

There are some nice things about the album, but it’s hardly a young person’s idea of a party scene. There’s mild lyrical and structural smarts, but nothing gives an edge of distinctive originality, no colour quirks or ‘feels’… alas.

“The good copper pans, the ’54 strat….” I miss them too.

But it’s hard to shake off that perennial ‘lounge music with lyrics’ tag here. And that innocuous, ball-less little guitar/bass fill in Green Book… it’s so shallow and unfunky! Maybe that’s the drift… groove by implication. So white.

Dang, you’re obsessed with this record (why couldn’t you pick one of their good records to nutter on about?!)

No, there’s not much “perfection” in the musicianship this time around – there’s a reason for this. For the first time ever, the band they assembled in the studio worked on grooves based on song fragments, rather than playing something that had been written to within an inch of its life by Becker and Fagen, pre-studio booking. Hence there’s not much intricacy to some of the bass parts (for example), but instead just a holding pattern rhythm.

The last two records are most certainly soft-jazz middle-age three martini emotional workouts. Lounge music? It’s an interesting lounge, if so…

UPDATE: Find out why Morph the Cat is everything that Everything Must Go should’ve been.


Author: Rino Breebaart

Editor. Writer. Secret bass player.

One thought on “Steely Dan – Everything Must Go”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: