To the uninitiated comments about Becker and Fagen’s attention to detail and the demonstration quality of their sound might imply some absence of passion, but their perfectionism is never to the detriment of the soul of the music (at least, up to Aja). The most notable feature of their approach is the way they are able to mould a disparate band of session players into a bona fide band – irrespective of the changes in personnel or the meticulous re-recording involved.
Many see Countdown to Ecstasy or Aja as the Dan’s twin peaks, but I would have to add this as the mid-panel of a triptych of stunning musical masterpieces. Veering more towards West Coast rock, the songs run the gamut of subject matter from LSD merchants, through double-dealing desperadoes, to marital bust-ups and racial tensions, encompassing a range of idioms, but from the opening bars of Kid Charlemagne to the close of the majestic Royal Scam, there is a unity and pulse that binds them all together into one kaleidoscopic vision of America.
As with all Dan’s albums, there is so much going on, lyrically and musically, so many outstanding contributions (even if just a few bars) that these songs stand the kind of repeated listening that few other artist’s material could bear. Well, I’ve been listening to these songs for nearly thirty years and they still sound as fresh as they did in 1977. The guitar parts alone are just as riveting – a masterclass in how to play coruscating breaks without hogging the limelight!
If you only buy three Dan albums, this HAS to be one – but you really NEED all from Can’t Buy a Thrill to Aja.