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Steely Dan - Aja CD (album) cover

AJA

Steely Dan

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.07 | 178 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars Aja is the album that introduced me to Steely Dan, although I must say that it's mostly through AOR FM airplay, and to be truthful I didn't think much of these slow/smooth jazz for the third age, or so I thought at 14. So I must say that outside the hit of Peg, that allowed me to peg down (pun intended) every other SD songs I'd already heard as SD, I set the group aside and vowed to return at retirement should I survive that long... Little did I know that the previous Royal scam was also a small chef d'oeuvre. But some 15 years later, a girlfriend got me to reassess SD's oeuvre although I certainly didn't start with this one. My new reassessment confirmed to me a few things, but allowed me to see that SD's music was always immaculate and the songwriting, although mostly standard, always impeccable and implacable, too professional in many ways. And indeed with Aja, SD reaches the top of the profession's professional peak: rarely has an album sounded so slick and smooth-gliding, so industry and radio-friendly, so commercially viable.. In a way sickeningly professional, although the album's almost all black artwork was intriguing, but not enough for me to find out what it was about.

I believe that more than half this album hit the airwaves in one way or another, and so I now realize that I have been very familiar to this album: indeed the title track (either edited or in its full length), Deacon Blues, Peg had gone to gain heavy rotation airplay, but even now I understand why I didn't like it at age 14. What puzzles me most, is that neither Becker nor Fagen play much on this album, Donald content on singing and playing the odd synth and Becker bassing it up once and taking three lead guitar solos. Minimal input, really!! For the rest, the album calls upon the usual suspect studio rats and therefore this album takes its whole dimension as a professional music industry product. With Aja, we are in 77 and next year is coming out Toto's first album, a similar product that will also hit the airwaves

After a relatively unremarkable opening Black Cow (another song about drugs), the lengthy title track is a relatively quiet, borderline boring jazz piece with some fake Caribbean feel (the percussions and whistle in the background) that only brightens up with a dynamic last minute ending with some diabolic drumming. But ironically that great ending is underlining just how twee and listless the rest of the track was: not bad per se, but they could've made it all so much better. Almost as long (and almost as boring, if not more so) is Deacon Blues, a song that filled the airwaves in all its length or part of it. , which will brig the same reaction

On the flipside, of course past the usual top 40 hit song Peg (and its usual awful Mike McDonald choruses) and its slightly disco/danceable feel, the album was certainly not going to waste itself entirely as the album's best track (IMHO) is the excellent Home At Last, a brass-laden jazz rock track that simply is irresistible and its lyrics flowing at an incredible rate, while the brass section is superb and Becker's guitar solo at the end is outstanding AND astounding. . The bimbo-dedicated I Got The News is a full piano and drums groove (most likely it's deceptively simple and very intricate) that doesn't do that much to change the album's generally smooth and gliding and it's not the closing Josie, which after a jazzy intro, sails on an intricate and complex funky and reggae-ish groove, a bit like its predecessor.

Fundamentally my mind hasn't changed much: Aja is still a boring album, but an impeccably-played album. And despite my relatively bad comments above, I still view this album as SD's apex, and it is certainly an excellent album by most standards, even those that progheads call their own, including yours truly!!! BUT, this album takes its whole dimension as a professional music industry product. With Aja, we are in 77 and next year comes out Toto's first album, a similar product and more proof that the music scene was moving away from freedom and into the industry's stranglehold that it had lost back in 65...

Sean Trane | 3/5 |

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