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Steely Dan - Everything Must Go CD (album) cover

EVERYTHING MUST GO

Steely Dan

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

2.93 | 43 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars As one of my esteemed colleagues here on this site has expressed in so many words, this one's a slippery fish to grab hold of. Steely Dan's music has always been an evocative mixture of American R&B, blues and pop fried up in a savory batter of jazz rock/fusion but some albums have been more progressive than others. The impressive comeback-of-the-millennium project they released three years before this one, "Two Against Nature," contained a generous amount of challenging and tricky jazz textures for a CD that not only received raving accolades but generated mucho mass appeal. In their always unpredictable style, "Everything Must Go" is somewhat bereft of those jazz rock/fusion influences and, thusly, a lot less prog. Having said that, it still has the trademark Fagen & Becker charm that I can't turn away from and it still delights as a work of enjoyable aural art. Say what you will, no one does what these guys do.

One distinction this album owns is the fact that, for the first time since "Countdown to Ecstasy," the same drummer plays on every cut. The very capable Keith Carlock does a splendid job throughout, starting by laying down a smart, bouncy blues shuffle underneath "The Last Mall." For Steely Dan, this tune is unusually straightforward in its structural integrity, with only the bridge providing a step away from the norm. Lyrically it's a witty parable comparing a retail outlet's clearance sale to the eve of the apocalypse. "Attention all shoppers/it's cancellation day/yes, the big adios/is just a few hours away/it's last call/to do your shopping/at the last mall," Fagen announces. Walter's jazzy blues guitar noodlings keep things interesting. "Things I Miss the Most" is next and it has that slick, cosmopolitan feel that characterizes so many of Steely Dan's tracks, complete with the subdued horns and light guitar licks. This song's about an older man living in limbo. He tells us he's happy with his solitary life after years of marriage but he also can't help thinking about what he's now missing out on. "The talk, the sex/somebody to trust/the comfy Eames chair/the good copper pans/the '54 Strat." he confesses. Just goes to show that you can't have everything.

Donald & Walter have rarely ventured into the realm of pure pop but on "Blues Beach" they do. If it wasn't so damn cheerful and perky I'd probably hate it but I can't bring myself to skip over it. Even the carefree words fail to reveal any sarcasm lying in wait. "Blues Beach/I'm frying/sizzlin' in the merciful rays/and it's the long sad Sunday/of the early resigned." Fagen chirps. Sometimes you just gotta go sit in the sun. But great satire is right around the corner in the form of the hot funk of "Godwhacker." Becker provides a rippling guitar riff from beginning to end as the crackerjack band purrs like a fine-tuned Corvette. The irreverent storyline pits one religion's Godhead against another's in an old-school gangland throwdown. "We track your almighty ass/thru seven heaven-worlds/Me, Slinky Redfoot, and our trusty angel-girls/and when the stars bleed out/that be the fever of the chase/you better get gone poppie/Godwhacker's on the case." he brags. But what really sends this number spinning into space is Donald's synthesized harmonica solo that'll put starch in your short and curlies. It's fantastic.

I guess Walter felt that by the 9th album he'd earned the right to put his lead vocal on a track but it only goes to show why he shouldn't have. The trotting gait of "Slang of Ages" loosely supports more talk than singing and it gets to be extremely monotonous in a hurry. I gather it has something to do with a hallucinogenic play period of sorts with lines like "these tabs look iffy/you say they're good/let's roll with the homeys/knock on wood," but there's nothing very clever about it. "Green Book" follows and it's the proggiest thing on the disc. It has a deep, crawling groove but it's also rather eerie because of its near-psychedelic aura. Both the guitars and the synthesizers use some curious effects that provide some strange but fun moments. The esoteric lyrics describe a kind of secret underworld inhabited by characters straight out of Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut."

"Pixeleen" utilizes a contemporary jazz motif to move things right along. The horns are fluid and the brief but very cool baritone sax lead by Roger Rosenberg is a highlight. Donald sings about a lonesome geek who finds the woman of his dreams in his X-Box. "This is what I see/just a girl in girlie trouble/dancing in the video with gun and tambourine." She completes him. Next is "Lunch With Gina," a no-frills, lite rock ditty that relies on a snappy synthesizer break from Fagen to provide the much- needed excitement. The lady in question drives our poor boy up the wall with her non-stop chattering and he does his best to avoid her but if she doesn't come looking for him he gets worried. "I'm in a cozy booth/maybe my watch is fast/another Tanqueray/I'll wait 'til twenty past/I'm about to go postal/when she waltzes in/I guess she's a knockout/hey, where've I been?" he wonders. Love is strange.

There's absolutely nothing prog about the title tune, "Everything Must Go," but I dig it nonetheless. It's a sleazy, slow blues deal with strong, smoldering saxophone runs from a dude named Walt Weiskopf who plays like an orphan from a Tom Waits number. While the sublimely sly lyrics go into detail about the demise of a late twentieth-century, Silicon Valley-ish tech company, they could easily be applied to a shipwrecked relationship or the breakup of a rock & roll group. "Can it be the sorry sun is rising?/guess it's time for us to book it/talk about the famous road not taken/in the end we never took it/and if somewhere on the way/we got a few good licks in/no one's ever gonna know/'cause we're going out of business/everything must go," he sighs.

Fagen & Becker are no longer spring chicks. They're now crossing over into the pastures of their sixties. Therefore this may or may not be the last studio album they will bestow upon us. They've finally discovered a joy in performing their catalogue of landmark recordings to attentive, devoted audiences so if this is their finale then I have no complaint. Sometimes I just want to listen to well- written songs with hummable melodies and words that make me smile and this slightly eclectic array of tunes satisfies that need, thank you very much. If you're new to the world of Steely Dan I recommend you start with "The Royal Scam" or "Aja," but don't be surprised if you someday end up here. You just might want all their stuff. Their personalized sound is infectious and addicting in a very grown-up, intellectual way and there's a lot to be said for that. Just don't let anybody tell you they aren't worth your time. They are. 3.7 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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