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On the avenue by Radio City
on 10 August 2012
They couldn`t possibly keep it up, could they? A debut any band would kill for, an even better follow-up, a third masterpiece of a darker hue - now the intriguingly titled Katy Lied, with its murky, insectoid cover.
They`d lost the great Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, whose guitar adorned and uplifted their first trio of albums, but the main event in the Dan itinerary was always the joint talents of songwriters Walter Becker & Donald Fagen, the latter`s drawly, sardonic vocals, and their brilliant arrangements, often with hints of a jazz sensibility, all wrapped up in the catchiest of melodies, a dash of melancholy, a sprinkle or two of deceptively sun-dappled irony, as well as a jaded, impressionistic view of post-war, post-sixties America that is a cousin to the sarcasms of Randy Newman, and (I would hazard) will outlive by decades the far less musically and lyrically timeless posturings of the Velvets or the arch pomp of the Doors.
Katy Lied is closer in feel and spirit to Countdown To Ecstasy, with still an echo of the edgy sound heard on its successor, the superb Pretzel Logic. Fagen`s voice is to the fore and the songs are as memorable as ever, each of the ten songs as ear-gladdening as any pop/rock music being made back then - or any time.
This is one album that feels like a coherent whole, with no `highlights` as such, though it`s worth mentioning the marvellous Doctor Wu with its terrific alto sax solos by jazz musician Phil Woods (no stranger to more commercial waters, having had a paddle with Paul Simon and others).
Guitar duties are shared this time by Becker, Denny Dias, Rick Derringer, Larry Carlton, Hugh McCracken and others, and you`ll hear the umistakeable tenor tones of the ubiquitous Michael McDonald on backing vocals, an acquired taste if ever there was one, though he blends in here very nicely.
I`ve been re-acquainting myself with all the Dan albums recently - always a pleasure, never a chore - and realise that they are, with hindsight, up there with the elite, those impeccably fine bands who simply wrote and performed great music:
The Beatles, Lovin` Spoonful, The Band, Crowded House, Squeeze...personally, I find them far more consistent than the Beach Boys, with whom they share a certain summeriness, though the Dan are a much darker, more urban proposition. No surfing for Don or Walt, I would have thought.
I love Steely Dan. I love these musically and lyrically articulate songs. This is as good as post-sixties music gets, and that`s good enough for me.
A great band at their glorious peak.
Bad sneakers and a pina colada my friend
Stompin` on the avenue by Radio City