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Steely Dan - Aja CD (album) cover


Steely Dan


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.15 | 255 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars AJA.

''Black Cow'' is the album's opener, and wow, what a song! The chorus is very catchy while still managing to put a new twist on typical song structurer and direction. The drumming featured in this song is quite contagious (go, Paul Humphrey!), while the rest of the instruments are on top of their game, as well. The vocal harmonies work extremely well here, and not one note sound out of place. Truly wonderful.

''Aja'' - is the album's title song, starting out with some of the most beautiful jazz piano work I have ever heard, and the punchy bass lines along with vibraphone really helps fill out the sound. The guitar work here isn't bad, either, and the mysterious, moody vocal melodies can't really be beat. The riff tham cones in at 02:20, then comes to full realization at 02:30 gives me true shivers, and the bluesy guitar solo that immediately follows sends me into a trance. If this album is anything, it is proof that Steely Dan, whatever incarnation, can always play their instruments with an equal amount accuracy and passion. A very beautiful song, complete with sax, keys and some mad drumming from Steve Gadd by the time it's all over. This song is quite the epic, as well, clocking in at nearly ten minutes. The chorus is so dreamy and pleasant that I don't see how anyone could dislike these guys or this album, but hey, it takes all kinds, so perhaps AJA's bad review has yet to be written. You certainly won't see it coming from me, however. As an entire album, Aja truly works, but the title song alone is enough reason to buy it. I truly mean that. Everything dies down with a hauntingly weird yet appropriate keyboard riff helping encase all of the madness during the final fadeout.

''Deacon Blues'' is already wonderful within the first ten seconds of the track. Great, great riff. May I add that the guitar playing on this record is unrivaled in places? No, not in speed, but in emotion. Some really great stuff to be found here across the entire board, but the guitars especially really add something to the exprience. This is a very uplifting song at its core, yet it could be taken as meloncholy if not in the correct mindset at the time of listening. Probably my favorite track on the whole record, along with the title track. The simplicity of Aja also should not be overlooked. The guys in Steely Dan are managing to make these tracks feel extremely epic and 'full' without having to over-play. That is something few other prog bands (or indeed, ANY bands) have been able to pull off over the decades, so it is always a treat to hear it pulled off so effortlessly here.

''Peg'' is probably the most straightforward 'jazz' song to be found on the record, sounding incredibly random at times while also remaining together and never feeling unorganized. The main riff playing so eloquently in the background really gives me a sense of rhythm and joy that sends my heart soaring every time I hear it. Again, a track that COULD be taken as being a 'bummer', but when listened to in the right mood on the right day, nothing could be more enjopyable and uplifitng. ''And when you smile for the camera, I know I love you better, Peg.''

''Home at Last''. Ooh, great, and I mean GREAT piano work here at the start, and all throughout, really. Much mellower and chill, this track is potentially the weakest on the record, and that is saying something indeed, since it's still of fantastic caliber despite the shortcomings. I guess my biggest complaint for this one is that it has already gotten repetetive for me. There isn't enough substance or growth to justify its length. That's just my opinion. The tune is still lovely, and the playing is top-notch as always, but except for the synthed-up bridge in the middle, I don't find it all that compelling or interesting. At least not enough to sit through five minutes and thirty-five seconds of it. Still, on its own, the song could rival anything on the radio these days, so these complaints are trivial, frankly. Still much better than most stuff.

''I've Got the News'' - The drum and bass work here is truly groovy. I think this song gives the best example of Rainey's prowess on his instrument. Ed Greene does great cymbal smashing work as well. Overall, a good track. Very compelling, always adding layers. I never got bored.

''Josie'' serves as the album's closer, and something about it is very 'seventiees' to me, for whatever reason. I like it. I like it alot. Not really much can be said about it other than the fact that it closes yet another master work that I am very proud to have in my collection. Gets many spins, this record. Well deserved, if you ask me. Is it Steely Dan's best? Perhaps, but for me the jury is still out, since I have yet to scourge through their entire back catalogue. Most likely, though. It's certainly the best of theirs I have heard so far.

AJA is truly a masterpiece, with just enough Jazz elements to keep us guessing, and all the rocking elements that make it worthy of being called 'progressive rock'. What truly great a debt we owe to masters like Steely Dan for not being afraid to completely start over in their line-up and sound. The result was AJA, and it was a monumental moment in music. Despite its couple of small hiccups, it is still perfect by most standards. I can't give it any less than a perfect score. Truly essential.

JLocke | 5/5 |


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