Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Steely Dan 4: Katy Lied

Having decided they weren’t made to be a touring unit, Becker and Fagen began crafting their albums with the assistance of the finest session musicians they could hire. That wasn’t such a shocking move; after all, some of the finest records of the previous decade were performed by the same handful of working stiffs. Steely Dan was merely being overt about it. Katy Lied furthered the Steely Dan sound—jazz-tinged FM radio fodder, with increasingly inscrutable lyrics—but one featured performer stands out. Today Michael McDonald is best known for his work with the Doobie Brothers and his smash hit single “Sweet Freedom”, but back then he was a just another smoky vocalist who dominates any track with his voice.
The first two tracks offer two angles on that trademark sound—“Black Friday” fading in on a galloping electric piano, “Bad Sneakers” with an electric sitar—that divide fans from non-fans. “Rose Darling” has some of the country touches from Pretzel Logic, something of a cousin to “Barrytown”. Speaking of retreads, “Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More” echoes “Show Biz Kids” without being as clever. The superior “Dr. Wu” suggests the title of the album, and presents the sax and chime tree combo that would re-emerge in a few years, complete with another faux-Eastern suggestion. The lyrics don’t make any sense, but the chorus is tremendous, climbing higher and higher.
“Everyone’s Gone To The Movies” matches a sinister suggestion of pederasty with a sunny calypso beat, and maybe that’s the point. There’s yet another sequel of sorts in “Your Gold Teeth II”, which doesn’t appear to share much with its interminable elder; this one has way more jazz changes, and even a decent melody dancing over a 6/8 rhythm. “Chain Lightning” lopes along in a slow shuffle for a Rick Derringer solo, but one of the more striking tracks is “Any World (That I’m Welcome To)”. While a monologue by a Holden Caulfield type isn’t such a weird thing for this band, there’s almost something defiant and hopeful in the chorus, almost like the Animals’ “It’s My Life”. (Joe Jackson liked it so much he borrowed the feel for the coda on “Nineteen Forever”.) Listen for that distant organ behind the second verse. Finally, “Throw Back The Little Ones” continues their tradition of ending albums with a clunker. Despite offering fishing advice, it’s got the telling lyric “Hot licks and rhetoric/
don't count much for nothing.”
Katy Lied has its moments, but as we’ve stated before and will again, Steely Dan is not for everyone. For most fans, it’s all or nothing, and there isn’t anything here that could be considered buried treasure. Therefore, it’s okay for what it is.

Steely Dan Katy Lied (1975)—3

1 comment:

  1. Phil Woods's alto solo on "Dr. Wu" is one of my all-time favorite breaks.