Since I was a youngster, sitting at home nursing a broken collarbone and listening to Can’t Buy a Thrill every afternoon, I’ve been a huge Steely Dan fan. They always were doing the new and interesting thing in pop/rock. Even after my favorite guitarist of the ’70s, Jeff Baxter, left the band(along with everyone else), I loved the music. And the solos of Larry Carlton, Elliot Randall, and numerous other players were always the best in the business.
Lyrically, they were so damn smart it hurt. Musically, they taught me more chords than I’d ever learned in my Mel Bay books. So, even though I’m now an aging fella with a mortgage and a child and pets, I still eagerly await the latest Dan release. This one came a little faster than the last. There was about a 20-year wait between Gaucho and 2000’s Grammy-awarding -winning Two Against Nature.
Well, it’s 2003 and here’s Everything Must Go. And, surprise, surprise, they actually cut a lot of it as a band. No 30 takes on a guitar solo. Just the boys playing. And(although my wife says it’s impossible for me to be impartial on this band), it’s one of the best I’ve heard in awhile.
I’ll warn you; there’s not a whole lot of new ground broken here. It’s a pretty logical extension of the last album. And, yes, critics who want the next big thing in rock and roll will savage this one, just like they did Two Against Nature.
But I don’t care. There’s the usual clever chord changes, brilliant playing, and the wordplay that brings a smile. Guitars are more than ably handled by Walter Becker, who plays all the leads (who plays bass for the first time in awhile), and Jon Herington and Hugh McCracken, who play the very smart rhythm parts that are always a key part of any Dan song. Check out the funky locked-in parts of “Lunch with Gina.” Textbook R&B playing. Or, if poppy, single-note funk guitar is your thing, check out “Godwhacker.” It also sets up a nice Becker solo, with a hot, not-quite-distorted sound that’s pure R&B heaven.
Steely Dan has a heavy reputation for its jazz leanings, and to be sure, those are here, mostly evident in the changes. But the band now sounds more like a tight, funky R&B band. Donald Fagen’s keyboards (yes, there’s even a couple of synth solos!), and vocals are as strong as ever.
The band cooks on all nine cuts. Lyrically, this one will add to the Donald/Walter library of odd sayings. How about “I’m learning how to meditate, so far, so good. I’m rebuilding the Andrea Doria, out of balsa wood” in the tale of lost love, “Things I Miss the Most.” Or “God knows the service could be better. Lunch with Gina is forever”… the line that highlights the ode-to-a-stalker tune “Lunch With Gina.”
If you’re a fan, you’ll love this one. Nothing unexpected, but a surprising familiarity and pleasant newness with a band that has grown up, and helped a lot of musicians grow past three-chord rock.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.