Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Steely Dan 7: Gaucho

And thus begins the tradition among California-transplanted songwriters to take an eternity making an album that turns out, after all that grasping for perfection, to be not worth the wait. Emerson, Lake & Palmer may have done it first, and Guns N’ Roses are carrying the torch today, but leave it to the cocaine cocktail circuit to make it fashionable to be bland.
Becker and Fagen toiled for hours over three years in five studios to get that optimal sound, tapping the talents of so many hired guns that no two tracks on Gaucho feature the same lineup. One track only has Fagen’s vocal, with no instrumental contributions from either of them among the people playing. “Babylon Sisters” shuffles along, with enough catchiness to make it a shoo-in for SD compilations, but without really saying anything. “Hey Nineteen” is more memorable, despite the drum machine, in its portrayal of an “older” man attempting to seduce a young lady with tequila and weed. (And get this: the girl of the title would be approximately 53 years old now. How’s that make you feel, Don?) “Glamour Profession” presents the sound that launched the CD101/lite jazz sound, along with an eyebrow-raising reference to one Hoops McCann. That’s the highlight of its seven minutes.
The title track begins with a great groove, stolen directly from an obscure Keith Jarrett album track. The boys insisted it was an homage, but that doesn’t excuse the bold imitation of Jan Garbarek’s sax. Granted, the verses take the feel someplace else, the chorus is reminiscent of the same for “Doctor Wu”, and the Mexican motif in the bridge conjures up memories of ¡Three Amigos! The musical bed for “Time Out Of Mind” would be rewritten in a couple of years for a more successful final product; meanwhile, good luck trying to find Mark Knopfler’s lead guitar as advertised. “My Rival” has a nice snotty sound and more elaborate horns for a change of pace, but is it necessary to have the backup sings chant the title of the song at the start of every verse? Finally, “Third World Man” adds some drama and actual dynamics, but it sure has taken a long time to get there.
Gaucho sounds like a Steely Dan album, but it simply doesn’t offer as many highs as the ones that came before. It meanders to a close, and while the boys would still work together over the years, their appearances from here on out would be fewer and further between.

Steely Dan Gaucho (1980)—2

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