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Steely Dan - Countdown To Ecstasy CD (album) cover

COUNTDOWN TO ECSTASY

Steely Dan

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.99 | 116 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars SD's second album Countdown To Ecstasy is IMHO much closer to the band's potential and most likely closer to what the group viewed as their artistic direction. Recorded between bouts of touring in promotion of their hit debut album, CTE might have been even better a record had the time and money not run out. One thing is clear though, the reception of this album was not a commercial success, as there was no evident single and the album was less and longer songs allowing for good interplay between the solo instruments. The album's rather ugly artwork seems to point to a concept album or at least a dominant theme, but it doesn't jump in your face either. The group invited what was to become the usual crowd of suspects on a SD album including the guitarslinger Rick derringer on one track.

Starting on the rockiest and jazziest Bodhisattva track was certainly a surprise for anyone knowing its predecessor and its successor. Indeed while not perfect, mostly the drumming bothers me, it is quite a departure from the pop with its twin guitar attack that's obviously enjoying itself, leading to great moments of ideal interplay, while the vocals are plainly up-beat and enthralling. The even jazzier Razor Boy enjoys some typical jazz chords, enforced by vibraphones, but the only drawback is Skunk's lapsteel solo. Boston Rag has some of the more decent guitars and its middle section growing from a single piano chord gets an impressive progressive rebuilding to give us back the original tune, but this time with a menacing tone given by the guitars. The side-closing Gold Teeth is also the album's longest tune and has that typical up-tempoed Dan-esque feeling, a jazzy groove dictated by echoing piano chord, while Becker's bass is dancing around and Skunk pulls a superb solo in the mid-section.

The flipside starts on another guitar bonanza, this time led by Derringer's slide, while the repetitive back vocals underline both the verse and the solos and the marimba covering the bottom shelves and harmonica to end the tune; while it might be the album's would-be hit single, but on the previous or following album, it would've ruled every song there. My Old School is solid brass rock track, but while it does feature impeccable musical execution and very tight songwriting, its problem is residing in repetitive choirs and chorus. Definitely the album's weakest track, the country-sounding Pearl Of The Quarter is probably the only track on Countdown that might be called a filler, but it's probably one of the weakest SD track ever. It sticks out like a sore thumb on the album track list, but at least it's one of the shortest tunes of the present album. Closing up the debate is King Of The World, an Apocalyptic tale of the sole survivor, which sounds prog indeed, especially the cheap irritating synth sound that comes in halfway above the funky bass and guitars. Most likely their idea of a tongue-in-cheek humour they're capable of.

Don't get me wrong, despite being fairly different from the two albums sandwiching it, with CTE you're still unmistakably on a Steely Dan album, but a better more refined version even if the general feel is rawer and fresher, due to a more discreet production and a splurge of energy given the tense situation between the group and its management/label managers. While CTE is probably not of the calibre of their latter albums (Scam, Aja & Gaicho), it's certainly the album preferred by a vast majority of progheads (yours truly included) in their early group era. The only one of their early albums to gain the three stars, partly because they told the frigging music industry to screw themselves and took advantage of the little freedom that had been bestowed upon them.

Sean Trane | 3/5 |

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