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Steely Dan - Can't Buy a Thrill CD (album) cover

CAN'T BUY A THRILL

Steely Dan

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.54 | 207 ratings

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Kempokid
3 stars My knowledge on Steely Dan happens to currently be contained almost exclusively to this album and Aja, but these 2 seem to have painted both a good picture of the band as a whole and the sort of progression of their sound from smooth pop rock to even smoother jazz rock. Smooth really is the best word to use for this music, with even the most technical moments still have an undeniable polished feel to them. While this sort of music can very easily fall into the territory of inoffensive shlock that ends up sounding like elevator music, Can't Buy A Thrill, and really Steely Dan on the whole manage to avoid this with a combination of good songwriting and juxtaposing this smoothness with a very cynical, sarcastic edge that lends towards giving them an entertaining charm. When it comes down to it, this album doesn't really have a lot to it outside of this sort of charm, being little more than a collection of catchy, sometimes anthemic pop rock songs that can worm there way into the listener's head and sit there for a while, with some great playing throughout that ends up being equally as ear catching as the hooks, not that there's anything remotely wrong with that.

The album kicks off with what's by far its best track, Do It Again, with a funky bassline and even sounding a bit like a Santana song, with a bit of that latin rock edge solidifying this sort of comparison. The vocal melodies are particularly on point, along with the way that this segues into a wonderful solo that's both somewhat fast paced yet having that airy, laid back feel to it as to not feel out of place. While the album's been largely praise so far, there are definitely a couple of issues I do have with it, one of the biggest being its use of jazzier elements sounding a bit superficial. What I mean by this comes from the fact that in Dirty Work most of all, it feels as if they decided to have some jazziness but thought that jazz just meant saxophone and piano and left it at that, making some of the songs here sound far inferior than they could have, even if Dirty Work's verses are still nice enough regardless. While there are definitely songs I prefer on the album, Kings is probably the song I'd point towards that reflects the band's sound the best, being quite soft sounding, a catchy hook, and some underlying sense of melancholy and sarcasm to the seemingly positive music. This song's also nicely capped off with one of the best guitar solos on the album, giving it a bit of an additional edge over a lot of other songs here. Both Midnite Cruiser and Only a Fool Would Say That aren't particularly amazingly memorable, but are both examples of chilled out, feel-good songs that are perfect for putting on and kicking back to.

The other big problem with this album comes from the fact that the 2nd side is for the most part a massive drop in quality, kicking off with Reelin' In The Years, which basically feels like the antithesis of everything that makes this album good, even though this is another catchy song. There's an almost taunting quality to the chorus that feels outright grating, and the overbearing sarcasm just ends up being too much to really enjoy, not to mention that the vocals just don't feel like they work here in the somewhat higher register. Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me) similarly just doesn't work, though in this case it largely comes down to the fact it's both extremely repetitive but without a good chorus to even attempt to salvage it, leading to an experience that's boring at best and annoying at worst, without even having the semblance of trying something comparatively interesting. While both Change of the Guard and Turn That Heartbeat Over Again are serviceable but nothing special, there's one other great song on the album, that being Fire in the Hole, which is far and away the most energetic track, with a strongly bouncy, groovy piano, a genuinely extremely fun verse, and solos that barely divert at all from the core sound of the song, hard to say much more about this song, but it's a real treat to listen to.

On the whole, while this album definitely has some issues in terms of pacing, consistency and its sound in general sometimes being a bit off with its attempts at jazziness, at its core, this is a solid, comfy sounding pop rock album that's very easy to throw on and just relax to. The album also sounds extremely polished, funny to say considering that all of Steely Dan's albums past this point were even more so, but it's nonetheless completely accurate to say for this album as well. It's also a bit of a shame that none of the songs are able to quite match the absolute greatness of Do it Again and to a slightly lesser extent, Fire in the Hole, but even so, there isn't too much here that I'd consider outright bad either. This album isn't really incredible and definitely seems like the band went on to strongly refine their sound further down the line, but I can't deny that I found it quite enjoyable to listen to regardless. Definitely give it a listen if you're more into this sort of easy to listen to, chilled out sound, because this album seems tailored towards that sort of listening experience.

Best tracks: Do it Again, Kings, Fire in the Hole

Weakest tracks: Reelin' In the Years, Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)

Kempokid | 3/5 |

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