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Steely Dan - Katy Lied CD (album) cover

KATY LIED

Steely Dan

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.57 | 90 ratings

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rogerthat
4 stars Katy Lied is like the Atom Heart Mother of Steely Dan's work. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are perhaps so unhappy about it sound getting compromised in the recording for technical reasons (which I won't be getting into) that they have a rather lukewarm opinion of this album. I quote from their notes to the 1999 issue of Katy Lied, 'What to call this latest installment in this saga? "Too Little, Too Late?" "Almost Good"? "And Then There Were Three?" "The Rape of the Domini?" ' It doesn't get a particularly overwhelming thumbs up from fans or critics either, though Robert Christgau does seem to like it more than Royal Scam or Aja.

With due respect, I submit that just as in the case of AHM, a Steely Dan aficionado would do well to politely disregard the take of the band members and instead find out for themselves. All things considered, Katy Lied is not as bad as it is made out to be. It may well be the weakest in a run of great Steely Dan albums. Which is a bit like saying Rubber Soul is lame because it is not nearly as good as Revolver (I mean, so what?). Does that make it avoidable? No sir!

Katy Lied presents another important milestone in the development of Steely Dan as a band. Having already decided circa Pretzel Logic that sessions musicians delivered more value for them than their 'real' band members, Steely Dan snapped the proverbial umbilical cord en route to Katy Lied. Since the other members wanted to tour and Steely Dan were having no more of it, they just fired them, leaving the old firm of Fagen & Becker to work with an enviable roster of 'hirelings' to borrow a phrase used by the duo. As yet, the list 'only' included Larry Carlton, Jeff Porcaro and Mike McDonald (it would swell to 'epic' proportions by the time of Aja).

The result: an album that sounds fantastic in spite of aforesaid technical issues. Seriously, I have played this one and Mirage (Camel) back to back and the sound of Katy Lied is pristine and crystal clear with no disturbances. It is no wonder that Fagen and Becker go ga ga over the contribution of Roger Nichols who patiently delivered to two exacting perfectionists what they were looking for.

And of course, all those musicians didn't hurt either. There is a great saxophone solo on Doctor Wu, followed by more superb sax on the coda of the same song. There are plenty of great guitar solos to choose from, be it on Chain Lightning or Throw Back the Little Ones (the last one evoking the famous Kid Charlemagne solo in places). My favourite, though, is ironically the solo contributed by original member Dennis Dias (now playing the part of session hand) on Your Gold Teeth II. Did Pat Metheny listen to Steely Dan in the mid 70s, by any chance? There are some songs like Daddy Don't Live in That New York City No More or Everyone's Gone To The Movies that don't do much but even these aren't necessarily bad, only overshadowed by tracks like Your Gold Teeth II. What, not a word thus far about Black Friday? How can that be? Anyway, it's a catchy rocker with (again) some tasty guitar but it probably belongs on Countdown to Ecstasy rather than Katy Lied.

Speaking of which, Katy Lied continues Steely Dan's evolution towards a smooth, jazz-rock based approach. Black Friday apart, there's nothing here that's particularly rocking in the way of a My Old School or Bodhisattva and even the rough edges of a Night after Night seem to be on their way out. More and more, their songs revolve around keyboard chords rather than a bluesy riff to set the tone. It should by all accounts have made them even more distant for the public. Instead, they only grew stronger with each album as they moved further and further from 'rawk', eventually striking gold with Aja. As I said in my review of Pretzel Logic , Steely Dan bucked the conventional wisdom of 70s music culture and did themselves a world of good that way.

In fact, I wonder why it took yet another album after Katy Lied before they could come up with Aja. Only a little more expansive writing, a little more studio gloss and they would be there, the way I see it. But they decided to have yet another fusion outing on Royal Scam. Was it a lack of confidence or did they just need to get another set of great chord progressions out on record before putting together their magnum opus. More on that when I attempt to review Royal Scam. 4 stars for Katy Lied.

rogerthat | 4/5 |

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