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Steely Dan - Aja CD (album) cover

AJA

Steely Dan

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.08 | 180 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The Dan pinnacle, part 2: The favorite

"This is the day of the expanding man."

And that brings us to Aja. More than anything that preceded it Aja represents the culmination of where the boys wanted to be. On the perch, high above the other music of the day and finally on the receiving end of the near-universal acclaim they deserved. They had delivered their masterpiece and a piece of work they would never top again. The level of sophistication and elegance in the arrangements was staggering, the perfectionism of the sound pushed to positively fascist degrees. There is absolutely no trace left of the musical five o'clock shadow that filled their earlier albums. Aja moved further towards fusion and introduced more progressive elements with longer pieces and more elaborate jamming and yet is retains the pop sensibilities that gave the band such a large audience. As mentioned in my Royal Scam review this is where the music turned much dryer for better or worse, the dry sheen would carry into Gaucho making the two albums twins in style.

The album took a year to record with Gary Katz at the helm. The process was sometimes grueling as they would do take after take with various musicians looking for the one that was just right. Five of the seven tracks are radio favorites which gives the album a bit of a "Rumours" overkill factor for some, yet the songs hold up very well today. Both Fagen and Becker love "Josie", Fagen saying it reminds him of the great R and B he so loves, "stuff like Charlie Parker." All of these classic songs are beneficiaries of nuance and precision yes, but with the mission of also being something you want to hear. That's what they emphasized in the documentary I just watched. Yes, they were shooting for perfection, but they wanted to take it beyond that by loosening it up and making it an album that would be enjoyable to hear. Last, they noted that on their previous albums they were New York transplants in LA, writing songs about New York characters to help them deal with being homesick. They acknowledged feeling a bit like characters in a Woody Allen movie where LA made them neurotic and disoriented. Then by the time they were ready to head back to New York in the late '70s, they were writing songs about California and maintain that Aja captures that California vibe. You be the judge.

Lyrically the album is another ode to characters of all sort, women and nostalgic fountain drinks. They claim Deacon Blues is the closest to autobiographical as they would ever get. Familiar characters are discussed, some aspiring losers and fading hipsters they would acknowledge freely. But as Becker said, referring to his character's philosophies in these songs: "whose to say they're wrong?" Indeed.

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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