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


Steely Dan


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.53 | 195 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars Naming a band after a dildo in William Burroughs's novel "Naked Lunch" is definitely a radical, humorous act but it pretty much set the tone for the unorthodox direction this "group" would boldly take in the decades to come. I loosely apply the term "group" because Steely Dan is really more of a conceptual project put together by keyboardist Donald Fagin, bassist/guitarist Walter Becker and wiz- kid producer Gary Katz than a normal rock and roll band. Katz's relocating the two musician/songwriters from New York to Los Angeles in 1972 had to be a severe, overwhelming culture shock for them both but it also proved to be the most significant turning point in their creative careers. It landed them smack dab in the middle of the whirlwind of tradition-smashing, wholesale changes occurring minute by minute in the music world of the early 70s.

That being said, their debut, "Can't Buy a Thrill," is the least progressive album they ever made. After years of honing their craft by trying to write hit songs for other artists like Barbara Streisand, this calculated collection represents the Top 40 pop mentality they had been forced into by the industry. But the cold, hard fact was that widespread airplay was the name of the game and the overnight success of the opener, "Do It Again," put them on the map and it sent this album soaring into the top 20 of the crowded LP charts. As a reviewer, the catchy tune has been so overplayed that I can't be objective about it at all. I'll admit that I never liked it all that much, though. It offers the first exposure to Fagin's unique voice but the song's absolute lack of dynamics makes it difficult for me to sit through. I'm no fan of the faux sitar effect. Its overextended ride, along with the boring, cheap-sounding organ solo, leaves me unimpressed (although it places me in the minority of society as it peaked on the singles charts at #6). Next up is "Brooklyn," a good pop ditty but far from being progressive. Singer David Palmer has a passable but nondescript voice on display here and the inclusion of the dreaded C&W-style steel guitar tends to make me cringe.

I've always admired "Dirty Work" for being a well-crafted tune with a nice horn arrangement but, unfortunately, it shows its age and won't attract the attention of many proggers. The obligatory saxophone solo is routine, at best. "Kings" is a return to Donald's svelte vocal tones and at least the number's arrangement is somewhat unconventional but overall it's a weak entry despite Denny Dias' cool guitar ride. "Change of the Guard" is a better song but it still resides firmly in the pop category. The strong electric guitar break is worth mentioning. Palmer mans the microphone again on the pedestrian "Midnight Cruiser" with the usual droll results and it marks the nadir of the proceedings. Even the dull guitar solo will put you to sleep.

Fagin returns to sing "Only a Fool Would Say That" and the track's slick, jazzy feel is a big step up in quality from the previous cut. The highlight comes in the form of the hot but short-lived guitar ride. "Fire in the Hole" hints at future progressive leanings with its offbeat progression and here Donald gets to show off his under-appreciated piano skills. I make it a point to ignore the corny steel guitar that appears just before the fadeout. The #11 hit "Reeling in the Years," with its brittle, edgy guitars is yet another horribly overexposed, played-to-death tune that, while it grates on my nerves to this day, made the band a household name. Sure, guest Elliot Randall left an indelible imprint on pop music with his flashy guitar spasms but Steely Dan was destined to showcase much better six-string performances in the years to come. The album ends with the quirky "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" that stays consistent with the atmosphere they created, yet the impressive jazz chordings they employ are a harbinger of what's to come on their next outing.

As debuts go, this one was remarkably successful in establishing them as a radio-friendly entity but it is so pop-oriented that I would never recommend it to a Steely Dan-as-crossover prog newcomer. The lack of imagination contained within compared to the astounding inventiveness that would come to be their trademark can be very misleading. The group belongs on this website without a doubt but I could do without "Can't Buy A Thrill." What a fitting title.

Chicapah | 2/5 |


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