Monday, December 11, 2017

Merry Christmas from Santa and Rose (part 11)

(from the Paul-dolph, The Red-Cheeked Daddy department)

Hi everyone,

We're on top of it this year!  Lights outside the house - festive spirit inside the house - and Santa photo taken early!


Again - this has been a transitional year for us!  But - a great year as well!  Plus - Rose is 10!  How did that happen??

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Pietromonaco family!

Cheers,
Paul

P.S.  No new shirt this year.  It's just too festive!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Steely Dan - Album By Album - Kamakiriad and 11 Tracks Of Whack

(from the Surf and/or Die department)

We're reviewing the solo albums released just before Steely Dan reformed.  Donald - and for the first time - Walter both released albums and also produced each other's records.  They're kind of like different perspectives into the Steely Dan whole, so I decided to review them together instead of separately.  This was the result.

----------------------------------

Snowbound
Let's sleep in today
Wake me up
When the wolves come out to play
Heat up
These white nights
We're gonna turn this town
Into a city of lights


Welcome neighbor - buckle in! As I ease my new Kamakiri into traffic, let's spin some tunes. Here - enjoy some fresh veggies from the hydroponic garden in the back. While we're munching, let's listen to the new discs from Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.

Up first - Kamakiriad. This is Donald's return from the writer's block wasteland. Superficially - it's a story about a futuristic journey in some sort of possibly post-apocalyptic wasteland. It's also a metaphor for the trials and travails of middle age.

I must admit - I'm more in love with the concept of the album than the album itself. When I read what Donald has to say about the album - it sounds amazing. But there's a sameness to the tracks. Donald mentions it in his interviews - he perfected the groove in the demos then kept it in the finished tracks. To me - that gives the album a demo feel - even though there's a lot of overdubs.

Also switching from Gary Katz to Walter Becker as a producer seems to have taken some of the air out of the arrangements. Now it's hard to say if Donald would have returned to music without Walter - it seemed like they both helped each other escape the long shadow of Gaucho. But - for me - when Donald started producing himself, he started backing off the sterile feel.

The album starts off strong with Trans-Island Skyway. Lyrically it sets up the whole Kamakiriad concept - musically it just swings. Countermoon is next - more catchy than it appears on first listen. But - already - the album concept seems almost discarded at this point. Springtime is next - I don't mind the track - but I'll be darned if I can remember the chorus. (Looks it up) Oh yeah. Right.

Snowbound - the long awaited return of Steely Dan. Except that it's not. Still - definitely one of the high points of the album. And Donald's right - the lyrics that he and Walter worked on about the icecats are a blast.

Tomorrow's Girls should be more memorable - the video certainly is! The lyrics are a blast - but again - the sameness of the melody makes it hard to remember without looking at the lyric sheet. Same with Florida Room.

The album finishes with On The Dunes. That's an album closing track worthy of the Trans-Island Skyway opener. Except that it isn't. Weird. The actual last track is Teahouse On The Tracks which is pretty catchy.

The album is definitely a slow grower. I like it more now that I did when I first heard it. However - it does seem like the weakest of Donald's solo albums to me. Not that it's a bad album - just - maybe a product of its time.

Anyway, neighbor - relax and enjoy the ride. As the last notes of Teahouse fade away - the Kamakiri autodisc loader queues up 11 Tracks Of Whack. Walter Becker's first solo album.

Now - this is interesting. Where Donald's solo albums tend to have overarching literary concepts, Walter's doesn't. Right off the bat, we're back in Steely Dan territory - specifically the low-lifes and bottom dwelling denizens we all know and love. Kicking off with Down In The Bottom - I feel right at home. Sure - it kind of sounds like a demo - but who cares? With lines like:

In case you're wondering it's alive and well
That little habit that you left with me
Here in the suburbs where it's hard to tell
If I got the bear or if the bear got me


I love it. Super catchy too! But - that's just the introduction to Walter's world. Up next? Junkie Girl! Just as catchy - and somehow even more darker. So far, Walter is two for two. But - the centerpiece of the album is up next.

Possibly one of my favorite tracks in their whole catalog - Surf and/or Die.

The lyrics - a poem Walter wrote about a friend who died suddenly - set to prayers from Tibetan monks. Blows my mind every time I hear it. And - ever since Walter's passing - these lines just hit me like a ton of bricks:

And I know that some day you'll be showing me those blankets
All covered in glory on the hereafter side, saying
There was never any question, it was always all or nothing
Surf and/or die


Damn it Walter.

Book Of Liars is next. This track continues the string of great songs on the first side. I will note that the Steely Dan arrangement on Alive In America is more sympathetic to Walter's voice. In fact, that's the one complaint I have about this album. For some reason, Walter believed he couldn't double his vocal like Donald did. I remember reading this: Interview with Steely Dan’s Walter Becker (2008) 

When we first started to do this kind of stuff, and when Donald and I were writing songs and showing them to people, I sang a lot of the songs because I sang much louder. I liked to sing. Donald was sort of playing the piano and hunched over the piano and didn’t sing as loud. It was only when we actually really got in the studio and I heard his voice and heard my voice that I realized what a great singer he was and what a ****ty, out-of-tune singer I was. Now, at that time I was smoking two or three packs of Camels a day. Not to say that I still don’t have problems with that, but I just didn’t have that pitch thing down. And when you get to the point of recording, that really counts. And I saw that Donald had a really cool style, and that he could do all kinds of fancy intervallic things, and as we later discovered a little further down the line, he could create these stacks of harmonies that really added a lot to what we were doing. And not everybody can do that; he can do it partially because of the precision and repeatability of what he does. He can double his own voice because he basically sings the song the same way every time: He has a perfect picture in his mind of what the song is going to be.
What I notice especially on this album is they put Walter's voice front and center - almost by itself. It's too far forward in the mix - with no background singers most of the time. I think that with a more sympathetic producer, this "in your face" aspect of Walter's vocals would have been better managed. Certainly Larry Klein's production in Circus Money was a step in the right direction. I'm going to hold off on further discLook - it's a two-ferussion of Walter's vocals until we get to Everything Must Go. Just noting this and moving on to Lucky Henry.

Lucky Henry - what an odd melody and time signature. Took a bit - but yeah - I find this song catchy as heck! Moving on to a triple punch of Hard Up Case, Cringemaker, and Girlfriend. All great songs - but now the demo-like qualities of the recording are starting to show. Each track is sort of a lesser return on a common theme. This is an album that seems to be best taken in small doses - not as an aggregate whole.

I'm still digging into My Waterloo, This Moody Bastard and Hat Too Flat. For some reason, I'm still unlocking the final part of this album. It's almost like album burnout.

But - Little Kawai - wakes me back up and ends the album on a great note. Leave it to the most cynical member of Steely Dan to write the most heartfelt lyric - to his real-life son. At the end of the day, Walter was the biggest softie of all:

In the morning in spite of everything
We'll go driving in our car
Straight to IHOP where it's well-known
The world's junkest pancakes are
Maple syrup on those french fries
They say it's no good for you

But you're still growing
Little Kawai
What do they know
Do they love you
Not the way that I do
Not the way that I do


Truer words from a father to a son were never written. My daughter and I have made almost the identical IHOP trip.

So - two different albums from the masterminds of Steely Dan. Almost the perfect division between the two: Donald's the more professional, tuneful, polished - Walter's the darker, deeper, oddball. Put them together - you get Steely Dan. At this point - greater as a whole than the sum of its parts. But - that would change in a number of years.

Anyway - it's probably time to get off the Trans-Island Skyway for a while, and pull in for the night. It's been great travelling with you, Friend. We'll meet again at the signpost on the frozen river - just over there at the "Steely Dan":

We sail our icecats on the frozen river
Some loser fires off a flare, amen
For seven seconds it's like Christmas day
And then it's dark again
And then it's dark again


Cheers,
Paul

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Steely Dan - Album By Album - The Nightfly

(from the Well we're gonna have a shindig department)

Okay - okay - I know - this isn't a Steely Dan album.  It's a Donald Fagen solo album.  But - we're doing all of the albums - including solo projects.  So - this one's in!

-------------------------------

"I'm Lester the Nightfly
Hello Baton Rouge
Won't you turn your radio down
Respect the seven second delay we use"


Well - radio listeners - you're just in time for Lester The Nightfly's review of Donald Fagen's The Nightfly.

In some ways - this is the ultimate reaction to Gaucho. Gaucho kind of ended up being a final statement from the original pairing of Don'n'Walt - kind of a weird goodbye to the 1970s. Now each of the Dan was free to follow their own destiny for a while. Walter went to Hawaii to regain his health and sanity - Donald ended up diving deep into the studio to tell a story of his youth and lose some of the snark he'd developed over the years.

The tone of The Nightfly belies its composition. According to Wikipedia: "Sessions often stretched long into the evening; Fagen would often refer to this as 'being on the night train.' In the end, the album took eight months to record, and was mixed in 10 days."

Kicking off with I.G.Y. - an acronym for International Geophysical Year - Donald immediately sets the tone of the album. Not burned out and cynical like Gaucho - but optimistic - looking towards the future. He couples these upbeat lyrics with an amazingly hummable melody - and BOOM we're in new territory. The sparkle of the brand new 3M digital system just about seals the deal.

Green Flower Street follows next - one of the more story-like narratives that Gaucho attempted, but this time - it works. The melody leaps out of the speakers - and so does the keyboards.

Ruby Baby - the only cover on the record - is next. I didn't want to like this one - but it's so darn infectious - I ended up loving it anyway. To me - it has a big band swing sound - brassy horns and sassy backup singers.

Maxine finishes out the side - quiet slow gorgeous harmonies - and yeah - quite possibly Donald's best vocal performance(s). Teenage angst and yearning at its finest. The fact that it was created from a discarded drum track just blows my mind.

New Frontier starts out side two. Burbling synth groove perfection - and one of my favorite Donald lyrics. The melody and the story are amazing - and the little touches - the tiny voice singing "Brubeck" in the background after Donald's Brubeck line - amazing. Easily one of my favorite tracks in all of Donald's work. I spent eons analyzing the words in this one: Ambush and a French Twist - I hear you're mad about Brubeck - I like your eyes, I like him too - etc. The eager young suitor as narrator. And - the promo video on the CD Video I mentioned earlier? Also terrific - and still looks amazing today - even converted to HD on YouTube.

The Nightfly was a track I had never really paid close attention to - until I saw it live this year. Then - I really clicked with the lyrics. Now - it's one of the highlights of the album for me. Like reading a pulp novel - set to a great melody.

And speaking of pulp novels - probably my second favorite song on the album - The Goodbye Look. For me - the narrative drive of the lyrics really makes this one. I find the melody as compelling as the other songs - but the lyrics - wow. They're kind of like the culmination of the story of tropical lowlife of Doctor Wu and Here At The Western World - only this time - he knows what's up and he has to get the hell out of that un-named country.

Finally - Walk Between Raindrops. This is the only disappointing song for me on the record. And - it's not a major disappointment by any means. I like the song - it just sounds like anyone could have written it. Which is its charm, I suppose. Donald finally writes the "standard" he'd been hoping to write. Still insanely catchy - and fits perfectly - just... not quite... my jam... I guess...

So - yeah - probably one of the strongest Steely Dan albums that's not a Steely Dan album. Right up there with Aja and Katy Lied for me - even though - lyrically - it's the complete opposite of cynical and bitter. (Which I do happen to normally enjoy - almost too much 😊 )

It also seemed to point to a new future for Donald. Instead - it turned out to be his curtain call for a long time. As he put it, it was the culmination of "whatever kind of energy was behind the writing I had been doing in the '70s.".

Next up - 11 years of... well... not much...

Stay tuned though - in a decade, with the help of therapy, Donald will beat the writer's block he's been struggling with - and finally reconnect with Walter, driving in his Kamakiri.

In the meantime, I'm Lester The Nightfly - signing off... reminding you that we're...

"An independent station
WJAZ
With jazz and conversation
From the foot of Mt. Belzoni"


Cheers,
Paul

Friday, September 29, 2017

Steely Dan - Album By Album - Gaucho

(from the Holding the Mystical Sphere department)


This one's pretty complete.  No real explanation required.

----------------------------------

Okay - without further ado - the Gaucho review.

Now - in 1980 - I had started High School. (We had 3 year Junior High and 3 year High School - yup - that's the way it was back then!) I remember hearing Hey Nineteen on the radio - and going "Ugh - what the hell happened to the Rikki and the Peg guys? This song is plodding as hell and a complete downer." Also - I wondered "Why is he whining about a 19 year old? Dude - you be kind of creepy." In retrospect, it's hard when you're a teenager yourself to sympathize with the protagonist in that song.

Then - John Lennon was assassinated a month later - and I became a rabid Beatles fan with no more time for Steely Dan. 😞

Flash forward to post-2000 me. I had purchased all of the albums and the Showbiz Kids compilation. I was discovering all the joys of Katy Lied and The Royal Scam - which I had never heard in their entirety before. But - Gaucho - ergh.

I did at least listen to the Gaucho cuts on Showbiz Kids. I remember thinking "Hey - this Babylon Sisters is pretty good. Hey Nineteen is now tolerable - at least I kind of get where he's coming from now. Hey Time Out Of Mind is really catchy. What the hell is this plodding Third World Man?"

So - finally I took the plunge and listened to the whole thing.

My review? Overall? Plodding and lifeless.

Babylon Sisters is amazing - one of the highlights. Hey Nineteen - I recognize it as a classic. Yes - it's a highlight of the live shows. No - it's still not a runaway fave - but over time - yeah - I dig it. Glamour Profession and Gaucho work better as stories than songs to me. Yes - the groove is good, if a bit mechanical - but man - the melodies are locked into step, if you will. Time Out Of Mind is my second highlight - still love the melody and groove in this track.

My Rival suffers from the same prioritization of groove over melody, but the lyrics are fun. Let me print them for a second:

The wind was driving in my face
The smell of prickly pear
[My rival - show me my rival]
The milk truck eased into my space
So - I take this as a guy locked in a suburban hell. Just an average Dad, living a boring life - fighting milk trucks for parking spaces. He tries to spice up his life by imagining himself as a Sam Spade-like detective:

Somebody screamed somewhere
I struck a match against the door
Of Anthony's Bar and Grill
I was the whining stranger
A fool in love
With time to kill
Keeping on with the Sam Spade, bad-a** detective motifs:

I've got detectives on his case
They filmed the whole charade
[My rival - show me my rival]
He's got a scar across his face​

Oops - we're back to reality - his imaginary rival is probably a retiree walking by.

He wears a hearing aid

Sure he's a jolly roger
Until he answers for his crime
Yes I'll match him whim for whim now
Now we get to his real rival - for his and his wife's affections - his own toddler son:

I still recall when I first held
Your tiny hand in mine
[My rival - show me my rival]
I loved you more than I can tell
But now it's stomping time

Sure he's a jolly roger
Until he answers for his crime
Yes I'll match him whim for whim now
Basically - there's two rivals in this song - the imaginary rival he creates to keep himself engaged. And his real rival - his toddler. πŸ˜ƒ

Wish the melody was a bit more compelling for this one - I love the lyrics and the various interpretations you can create. πŸ˜ƒ

Finally - Third World Man. Melody is okay - lyrics kind of obvious somehow. The first draft lyrics to this tune - then called "Were You Blind That Day" - weren't better or worse - just different. The Third World Man lyrics are more imaginative, to be sure - the imagery is kind of cool - but they don't seem to really go with the melody behind them. Ends the album on kind of a wrong note.

So - yes - Gaucho is not one of my fave Steely Dan albums - ranks even below The Royal Scam for me. That being said - even the worst Steely Dan is better than a ton of other bands. And - yes - the surround mixes are fun. Sad way to see the run of the original Steely Dan 7® albums end - but then - we get the gift of The Nightfly.

Cheers,
Paul

Steely Dan - Album By Album - Greatest Hits

(from the Here At The Western World department)

We're not supposed to tackle compilations yet - but I did anyway.

--------------------------------------

Well - before I tackle Gaucho - let's talk about Greatest Hits. 

Yes - I know the rules - but this one in particular seems like it should be discussed here - as opposed to a compilation section later. A few reasons in my head for this:

1. It was released while the band was an ongoing concern, instead of posthumously. 


2. Don'n'Walt picked the tracks. 

3. They added a unreleased cut. 

One thing that I keep in mind with compilations like these are how they affect subsequent release(s). An example of this might be the The Beatles - Hey Jude compilation album. There's a theory that the inclusion of "Don't Let Me Down" on that record may have been the reason Phil Spector left it off of his assemblage of Let It Be.

So - according to the Steely Dan FAQ:

With the phenomenal success of "Aja," Donald and Walter are under considerably less pressure to release new material quickly. ABC releases a Greatest Hits package in November 1978 which includes one unreleased track "Here At The Western World." This collection also goes platinum and reaches #30 on the charts. Tiring of the L.A. scene, Becker and Fagen move back to New York to start recording their new album.​

The track selection on Greatest Hits is top notch - especially considering the restrictions of the double album vinyl format, and the large amount of material they had to cover. 

Basically, if we break it down:

1. "Do It Again" 
2. "Reelin' In the Years"

Two cuts from Can't Buy A Thrill - both A sides of the US released singles

3. "My Old School" 
4. "Bodhisattva" 
1. "Show Biz Kids" 

Three cuts from Countdown To Ecstasy - both A sides of the US released singles and a deep album cut as a bonus.

2. "East St. Louis Toodle-oo""
3. "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" 
4. "Pretzel Logic" 
5. "Any Major Dude Will Tell You"

Four cuts from Pretzel Logic - both A sides of the US released singles, a B side and a promo single! Somebody knows how to sequence compilations!

Yes - Toodle-Oo was a promo single - not just a deep album cut. The promo sleeve is fascinating - it's just text: "A Special Programming Serivce. Steely Dan recorded their first instrumental a few months ago. It was a labor of love and it was a Duke Ellington song - as a matter of fact his one-time theme song "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo". We thought you might like it." That sounds like Don'n'Walt text to me.

1. "Here at the Western World" 

Genius track - criminally overlooked when it was recorded. Added to the double album lineup as both a carrot to entice hard-core DanFans to pick up the album, and also as a natural side 3 kickoff. It stands strongly with the official "Hits" on this album, and sounds "of a piece" with the songs following before and after it. 

Also - I don't think there's anything tricky about the meaning of the verses:

Down at the Lido they welcome you
With sausage and beer,
Klaus and the Rooster have been there too,
But lately he spends his time here.

Hanging with the mayor and all his friends
And nobody cares,
Where the sailor shuts out the sunrise
Blacked out on the stairs​

Basically - the narrator is already at The Western World - and he's talking about a nicer place he used to go to - The Lido. I parse this as Klaus still goes to the Lido, but the Rooster now hangs out at The Western World with the Mayor, the Narrator, and all of his friends. A drunken sailor passed out on the stairs - skinny girls - it kind of sounds like a 3rd world bordello to me - possibly Argentina with the strange German names. This verse really cinches it for me:

Ruthie will give you the silver key
To open the red door:
Lay down your Jackson and you will see
The sweetness you've been crying for ​

Yup - it's a bordello. Moving on...

2. "Black Friday" 
3. "Bad Sneakers" 
4. "Doctor Wu" 

Three from Katy Lied - both A sides of the US released singles, and a deep album cut.

5. "Haitian Divorce" 
1. "Kid Charlemagne" 
2. "The Fez" 

Three from The Royal Scam - both A sides of the US released singles, and an A side from a UK single (Haitian Divorce).

3. "Peg" 
4. "Josie" 

Two from Aja - two of the A sides from the US released singles. (There was at least one more US single released.) 

And there it is - kind of a perfect summation of where Steely Dan was in 1978. 

The other nice thing to note about the vinyl is the side loading. A quick, off the cuff calculation shows

Side 1: 21:28
Side 2: 19:56
Side 3: 20:36
Side 4: 16:56

Those aren't bad running times for double vinyl. CD should have a running time of 78:56 - which is long-ish for a single CD - but do-able.

Cheers,
Paul

Steely Dan - Album By Album - Aja (+FM)

(from the Done Up In Blueprint Blue department)

Two separate reviews - but they kind of belong together.  You'll see.  I had to remove a name from this post - and remove some other non-review material - but otherwise - unchanged.

----------------------------------

In 1974, I was 9 years old - and an avid AM radio listener. We didn't have FM in my house back then - but that's another story. I remember hearing Rikki Don't Lose That Number on the radio and loving that song. I didn't know it was Steely Dan at the time - or even who Steely Dan was!

Flash forward to 1977 and 12 year old me - now in Junior High School - had started listening to music of his own choosing.  I remember hearing the song Peg on the radio and thinking it was amazing. A friend had the Aja album, so I made a cassette copy - because that's what kids with limited funds did back then. 

I remember listening to it with my weird music background, and thinking, "Well Peg is great. Shame about the rest of the album, though."  I quickly moved on to the next albums I had convinced my parents to buy me - Barry Manilow's Even Now, Al Stewart's Year Of The Cat and Christopher Cross's Christopher Cross.

Throughout high school and college, I became a huge Beatle-head - then moved into prog rock, then new wave & punk. I played in a Goth Band (!) then got into music engineering school and played in a Seattle band. (We were more R.E.M. than Nirvana - but hey - it was Seattle, and you could get away with that here for a while.)

At some point, I started collecting the odd Steely Dan album here and there - on vinyl! I have an MCA Countdown to Ecstasy, a quad Pretzel Logic, and the Don'n'Walt demo collection The Early Years from back in those daysThen - as mentioned earlier - I heard that Joe Jackson cover of "King Of The World". That really flipped my whole Steely Dan perspective around - and so I avidly started collecting all the Steely Dan I could, starting with the 2000-era CD re-masters.

As part of this - I rediscovered Aja.

So - my Aja review.

It's definitely part of the "last phase" of the original Steely Dan 7®. The "rock" bits that were still present in the Katy Lied/The Royal Scam twins were completely excised at this point, in favor of a more jazz/pop direction. It took me a while, but I finally realized that "Peg" is not the only Amazing Song On Aja®. The title track "Aja" is a tour de force. When folks here mention that it might be their pinnacle, I find it very hard to disagree with them. "Black Cow" and "Deacon Blues" are almost like mini-movies - long-form, yet still melodic.

Side 2 - with shorter songs - seems more Beatle-esque. I still love "Peg" - and keep finding new bits every time I really listen to it. (i.e. I just noticed the little shouty bit of "PEG" during the fade out.) I love the literary allusions to Greek myths in "Home At Last" - even the Retsina is a call back to Greek culture. I will admit that I hadn't really paid attention to all of the double-entendres in "I Got The News" until recently. I just liked the angular melody, the groove and the kind of "boppy" feel. Finally "Josie" wraps up the album in grand style - all flashing eyes and fire.

It's still not my favorite Steely Dan - that remains Countdown To Ecstasy - but it's really, really good. When I'm in a more "jazz" mood - it really hits the spot. Intense, yet laid back. Quite possibly the most fully realized album Steely Dan ever made.

Unfortunately, Aja also pointed in the direction that Steely Dan would follow on their next albums - more reliance on groove - less on pop hooks. A continuation of the trend that a fellow reviewer on the Steve Hoffman forums noted on The Royal Scam: "harmonic and rhythmic hooks instead of melodic and lyrical hooks".

But - for this album - it seemed more like a new direction than an eventual dead end.

Cheers,
Paul

-----------------------------------------

BONUS Review: FM

As mentioned earlier, FM (No Static At All) is a song that Steely Dan did for the movie FM. The movie isn't great - some might even call it terrible. Mostly - it's just unimaginative and kind of clichΓ©d. Sad too - it's a great cast: Cleavon Little, Martin Mull, Eileen Brennan and Alex Karras. And there's live performances from Jimmy Buffet and Linda Ronstadt.

Luckily, it had a pretty cool soundtrack. Many of the acts were managed by Irving Azoff - including Steely Dan - hence their inclusion on the soundtrack album.

Steely Dan contributed two tracks: FM (No Static At All) and FM (Reprise). Most Steely Dan compilations rename the song to simply FM. And - as has been mentioned - from the Gold Expanded Edition CD onwards, FM is usually an edit of FM (No Static At All) and FM (Reprise), replacing the track ending guitar solo with a saxophone solo. (A quick way to tell: the "guitar outro" version is 4:50, while the "sax outro" version is 5:06.)

Either version is wonderful. 

I'm more familiar with the "sax outro" version - that's the first version I ever heard. But the "guitar outro" version is pretty damn tasty, I must say.

As has been mentioned, the lyrics are kind of a play on FM radio - and seduction. "No Static At All" was one of the selling points of FM radio. Unlike AM, FM radio always sounded clear - immune from lightning strikes, appliances, and other noise generating sources. 

You play the cool music - you'll get "No Static At All" from "The Girls". Tasty guitar - smoking sax - pretty much a classic Steely Dan song in almost every way. 

Cheers,
Paul


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Steely Dan - Album By Album - The Royal Scam

(from the Green Earrings department)

This was a fun intro.  The thread had derailed just a bit, so I pretended to derail it further.

------------------------

Okay - since I'm doing all this analysis - I should tackle Godwhacker.

Godwhacker is about...

(heh heh)

No - I'm kidding - it's The Royal Scam time.

This album starts out really strong with Kid Charlemagne - a thinly disguised take on the rise and fall of Owsley's adventures in the LSD underworld and the counter-culture of the 60's turning into the me-decade of the 70's. (There's a good sample analysis here: Kid Charlemagne - Wikipedia ). This song absolutely scorches in all the right ways - and I love the "Is there gas in the car? There's gas in the car!" line.

From here, the Dan dust off another old songwriting demo - the Caves Of Altamira. However - here - it sounds fully finished.

(Complete sidebar - they deleted a verse from the demo:

Many years had come and gone,
and many miles between.
Through it all, I found my way
by the light of what I'd seen.
On the road as I returned
was a green and yellow sign,
saying "See the way it used to be",
and I took my place in line.
Originally - this was inserted before the last verse.)

Don't Take Me Alive is next - and continues the string of powerful songs on side 1. (And - yes - this may be semi-autobiographical on Walt's part.) Then, comes the highlight of the album for me: Sign In Stranger. I love this song!!! Yeah - the lyrics are a touch more oblique - feels like sci-fi to me - and Walt & Don changed the bridge melody & lyrics by the time of Alive In America - but still. Great song!!!

(Sidebar - the lyrics in the Alive in America version of the bridge change from the "yellow fever" set to:

Find your fortune
On this lucky star
The chances are good
You will thrive
If you make it back alive
Kind of extends the sci-fi theme of the lyrics a bit more.)

But - then - we get to The Fez.

Ergh... musically tight - but the entire lyrics consist of:

No I'm never gonna do it without the fez on
Oh no
That's what I am
Please understand
I want to be your holy man​

Really? That's it? On a STEELY DAN album? Where's the deep lyrical play? Where's the melodic inventiveness? Instead - it's a deep locking groove - and a harbinger of things to come.

Side two kicks off with Green Earrings. More of the same - deep groove, great instrumental performances - but the lyrics:

Cold, daring
No flies on me
Sorry, angel
I must take what I see​

and

Greek medallion
Sparkles when you smile
Sorry, angel
I get hungry like a child
Otherwise, just this repeated chorus:

Green earrings
I remember
The rings of rare design
I remember
The look in your eyes
I don't mind
Again - what happened to the lyrics? They're better than The Fez, but still.

Haitian Divorce is a tour de force, and Everything You Did is... well I was gonna say fun... if a Steely Dan song can be said to be fun. (And kudos for the Eagles shout-out!)

And then - we're kind of back to a locked groove on the final song "The Royal Scam". However - the lyrics and subject matter redeem this one for me. The sense of dread and menace - and the continued lies generation to generation. Amazing.

So - overall? There's a lot to like here - but - wow - in some ways - a step back from its predecessors. It seems like some of the basic material was weaker - hence the need to dig back into the songwriting demos - but the "band" was tighter, hence the longer, virtuoso instrumental passages.

For me, this is the weakest of Steely Dan's albums so far - but not the weakest overall. That's coming up. And - it's still pretty close to the others. Any other band would be lucky to have this one - but the previous 4 Steely Dan albums set a very high bar for this band, and this one doesn't quite make it.

Cheers,
Paul

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Steely Dan - Album By Album - Katy Lied

(from the Can You Hear Me Doctor? department)

Not much to needed to setup this review.  Enjoy!

Oh - yeah - the "parent theory". That's in Everyone's Gone To The Movies. The "parent theory" is that the parents have found someone to watch the kids - and they're finally alone - hence the line "Everyone's Gone To The Movies - Now We're Alone At Last."  Meanwhile - the kids are watching films in the den with Mr. LaPage.  This is probably not a good idea.

-------------------------------

Katy lies
You could see it in her eyes...


So - Katy Lied. Where the 'Dan ends all pretense of being a band and turns into a songwriting/performance/recording collective.

That being said - it's a great album.

Black Friday is the perfect start to this album - it sets the tone for the new Dan and introduces us to the new cast of session players, not to mention the upcoming economic collapse, and some possible activities we can indulge in. From there, we delve into the underbelly of civilization - and the typical Dan lyrical concerns - while the increasingly smooth - and immaculately recorded - sounds flow. Bad Sneakers, Rose Darling, and Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More keep the momentum going - building up to the tropical wasteoid junkie love triangle of Doctor Wu. One of the highlights of the album for sure - and that screaming during the fade? Amazing.

Side 2 kicks off with, oddly enough - another one of my favorite Dan songs. Everyone's Gone To The Movies is lyrically nasty, sonically fascinating and catchy as hell. It's the kind of song you find yourself singing along with - and regretting - but singing along anyway. Yeah - I know - the subject matter - not cool. (And I love some of the analysis I've read here - the parent theory is quite good!) But - I don't think the Dan ever equaled the catchy perversity of this song. Certainly - the demo on Citizen Steely Dan - as well done as it is - is not in the same league. (And, speaking of perversion, we'll have to chat about good old Cousin Dupree later!)

From there, side 2 moves on excellently. Your Gold Teeth II swings, Chain Lightning is tasty as all get out, Any World is soaring, and Throw Back The Little Ones - with it's odd, janky piano - ends the album just right.

There's a lot to like on this one - it's one of my top Dan albums. Even with all the studio cats - the Dan still sounds energized. Something that, unfortunately, did not last on the next album - but I'm getting slightly ahead of myself.

So - yeah - Countdown is still my top Dan album - but this one fights Pretzel Logic (and a couple of worthy upcoming contenders) for the follow-up position.

Cheers,
Paul

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Steely Dan - Album By Album - Pretzel Logic

(from the Three weight ounce pure golden ring no precious stone department)

Hi everyone,

Okay - Steely Dan's third album Pretzel Logic is up for review.  I had fallen behind in my reviews, hence the Mr. Hurry McHurry Pants reference at the start.

-------------------------

Here's my review of Pretzel Logic, Mr. Hurry McHurry Pants 😊 😁 😝

This album is probably the hardest for me to review. When I heard it as a kid - I dismissed it. Except for Rikki. I loved that one.

When I started really appreciating Steely Dan - after the revelations of Countdown To Ecstasy I mentioned in my previous review - I found a lot to like about this one. However - I did feel that it was a retreat from the advances they'd made on Countdown. 11 tracks in 34 minutes - this is a shorter album than Can't Buy A Thrill - and it even has one more song!

Outside of Rikki - the one tune that really stood out for me was - of all things - Charlie Freak. Just like King of the World - I think I really like the narrative driven Steely Dan songs. Love this song - and the sleigh bells? Sounds like Christmas for the Dan to me! I have been known to auto-repeat this song a few times before moving on. Plus - the piano on that track? Amazing.

Found out years later that this was one of their original songwriting demos. That may have been the issue with this one for me - the reversion back from the stretched out arrangements of Countdown to the two minute single conventions of the day. They may have really been trying to write normal "hit" songs on this one - hence the digging back into their songwriting demo material.

But normal for the Dan - is another man's Charlie Freak.😊

So - this was a slow grower for me. Now, I can really appreciate the album as a whole - and with the exception of East St. Louis Toodle-Oo - it really holds together. I'm not a Toodle-Oo hater - not by any means - but it almost seems out of place amongst the misanthropy, although now with CD, it serves as kind of a long intro to Parker's Band. Any Major Dude is a great deep catalog cut - the acoustic guitar is particularly tasty on that one. Barrytown (another demo dusted off) and Night By Night kind of have the patented Dan sound down. Pretzel Logic is a puzzle - unlocked by the time travel narrative drive - but still a puzzle. With A Gun just proves how quickly the band could shift gears - country Dan, anyone? And Monkey In Your Soul sounds like the perfect summation of this phase.

And - that brings me to a theory I've been working on for a while.

Dan albums come in pairs.

Hear me out.

If we take Can't Buy A Thrill out of the picture for a second - I'll get back to it, I promise - then each Dan album pairs up in a way. You have Countdown to Ecstasy & Pretzel Logic as twins - Countdown's longer arrangements, Pretzel's shorter as a reaction. Then the studio cats Dan of Katy Lied & and the "studio cats turn-up the guitars" of the The Royal Scam. Move on to the laid back jazz vibe of Aja & Gaucho, followed by the twin solos Kamakiriad and 11 Tracks of Whack. These two solos led to Two Against Nature and the live band reaction to it of Everything Must Go.

If you take the best of the songwriting comps - Aero record's The Early Years comes to mind - that kind of matches Can't Buy A Thrill as its proto-twin.

It's not a perfect analogy by any means - what matches with the Nightfly? Alive In America? Circus Money? Sunken Condos? But - you see what I'm getting at here. It seems like - especially when they work together - they'd re-invent themselves, debut that on an album, and try a different take on it for a subsequent album before trying something new.

Even the two compilations during the active band years - Greatest Hits and Gold - follow this pattern. Gold sort of fills in the missing bits for Greatest Hits - like a Greatest Hits 2. (The original Gold, BTW - not the Extended Edition.)

Anyway - Pretzel Logic - for me - the ultimate slow grower. Didn't love it at first, but - yeah - probably one of their best.

Cheers,
Paul

P.S. I have the quad vinyl of this one. No big surprises or mixdown revelations. Rumor is that it might be a "double stereo" version of the album, as opposed to a different quad mix, but I don't have my quad setup together anymore - stereo only - so I can't confirm or deny that. I believe it's QS - officially it's listed as Command Quadraphonic.

More about the quad-ness - or lack thereof - here: Steely Dan: Can't Buy A Thrill [QS/Q8] and Steely Dan: Pretzel Logic [QS/Q8]