Steely Dan
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Can't Buy A Thrill (1972), 6.5/10
Countdown To Ecstasy (1973), 7/10
Pretzel Logic (1974), 7/10
Katy Lied (1975), 6.5/10
The Royal Scam (1976), 5.5/10
Aja (1977), 6/10
Gaucho (1980), 5.5/10
Donald Fagen: Nightfly (1982), 6/10
Donald Fagen: Kamakiriad (1993), 6.5/10
Two Against Nature (2000), 6/10
Everything Must Go (2003), 5.5/10
Morph the Cat (2006), 5/10
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During the 1970s, Steely Dan, an invention of pianist Donald Fagen and bassist Walter Becker (two New York-based songwriters), coined an elegant and laid-back style, ideal for living-room relaxation, by fusing pop, jazz, soul and blues, and then embellished it with guitar dissonances, tempo shifts and erudite lyrics. Their success was partly due to producer Gary Katz, who must be credited with the characteristic "clean" sound of their records.

On his own, Donald Fagen has released far more creative and original albums, proving that he was much more than a cocktail-lounge entertainer.


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Gli Steely Dan, un'invenzione del pianista Donald Fagen e del bassista Walter Becker (entrambi scrittori di canzoni di New York, che avevano gia` pubblicato una colonna sonora), coniarono uno stile elegante e rilassato, da salotto, che fondeva pop, jazz, soul e blues e lo abbelliva con liriche erudite, dissonanze chitarristiche e cambi di tempo (merito anche del produttore Gary Katz, a cui si deve il caratteristico sound "pulito" dei loro dischi). Nonostante la sua intellettuale austerita`, Can't Buy A Thrill (ABC, 1972) frutto` due piccoli hit, Do It Again e Reeling In The Years, ma il sound era ancora influenzato dai compagni di scuderia Three Dog Night (Midnight Cruiser, Kings, Dirty Work).

Countdown To Ecstasy (ABC, 1973) fu l'album che li emancipo` dal resto della scena musicale: King Of The World, Bodhisattva, My Old School, Show Biz Kids proponevano pop-jazz da camera. Il formato era quello dell'easy-listening, ma il contenuto era quello della musica d'avanguardia.

Pretzel Logic (ABC, 1974), su cui canta anche Michael McDonald (futuro Doobie Brothers), accentuo` l'elemento jazz e scodello` la canzone piu` orecchiabile della loro carriera, Rikki Don't Lose That Number. Ma praticamente tutte le canzoni offrono qualcosa di diverso: Night By Night, Monkey In Your Soul, Through With Buzz, Any Major Dude, Pretzel Logic.

Gli Steely Dan divennero celebri anche per le maniere un po' snob con cui evitavano concerti e interviste e tutto l'apparato della "stardom".

Formalmente impeccabili, cesellati da fior fiore di session-men, Katy Lied (1975), con Black Friday, Daddy Don't Live, Doctor Wu, Chain Lightning, Throw Back The Little Ones, The Royal Scam (1976), l'album piu` tetro del gruppo (Haitian Divorce) ma con la buffa disco-music di Kid Charlemagne, e Aja (1977), quasi barocco, con Black Cow (a gospel choir turning into pop phrasing, ska guitar and jazz horns) Peg, Deacon Blue (a ballad stretched to eight minutes by a bright sax solo), Josie, Home At Last (a horn-tinged bluesy melody), the eight-minute Aja (a piano-driven jazzy shuffle with a rather implausible instrumental jam of guitar, xylophones and whistle reinforced by a sax solo), imposero un nuovo standard di riferimento per la musica pop.

Il vellutato Gaucho (MCA, 1980) chiuse la loro carriera con le raffinate divagazioni di Hey Nineteen, Babylon Sisters, Time Out Of Mind, Gaucho, e con un altro ballabile esteso e swingante, Glamour Profession.

Spesso fastidiosamente levigate, impostate attorno a melodie banali, decorate di piccoli interventi strumentali da pensionato del jazz, leggere fino alla trasparenza della muzak (per non parlare dei testi, un concentrato di presunzione letteraria), elastiche e gommose per essere digeribili da tutti, le canzoni degli Steely Dan rappresentano quanto di piu` deleterio il "re-alignment" degli anni '70 abbia proposto, interpretano alla perfezione lo spirito qualunquista del borghese medio che anteponeva la "qualita` della vita" alle istanze rivoluzionarie. In pratica, rispolverarono l'easy-listening degli anni '50 per la generazione del Watergate. Mutatis mutandis, era la stessa filosofia ed era lo stesso sound. Ma, in quel genere reazionario che porta a Michael Jackson e a Mariah Carey, furono davvero degli "artisti", o quantomeno degli "autori".

After the split (Becker was notoriously addicted to drugs), Fagen recorded two albums, eleven years apart from each other: Nightfly (Warner, 1982) is a pleasant and soulful collection of intimate music, the quintessence of Steely Dan's art, built around a Pete Townshend-like recollection of his roots. The slick production of horns, synthesizers, piano and choir disguises the upbeat soul ballad IGY, that pays tribute to both Stevie Wonder and Sting, the fibrillating funk a` la Talking Heads of Green Flower Street, the Afro-jazzy soundscape of New Frontier, the call-and-response dialogue of The Nightfly, the Caribbean funk of The Goodbye Look, the swinging soul-jazz finale of Walking Between Raindrops, and, spread all over the album, vocal harmonies that hark back to the quartets of the 1940s and 1950s (Ruby Baby, Maxine). The only drawbacks are Fagen's vocals (rather unoriginal and frequently stretched) and the melodies (rather derivative).

Fagen's follow-up, the eight-song concept Kamakiriad (Reprise, 1993), was a subtle and psychological work, the most ambitious project of his career yet. The funky rhythm and hysterical falsetto of Trans-Island Skyway or the catchy singalongs Springtime and Florida Room are quite trivial, but the manner Countermoon blends James Brown, Prince, big-band sound and a gospel choir, or the smoothly syncopated atmosphere of the seven-minute Snowbound, or the fractured chant and soaring chorus over light jamming of Tomorrow's Girls, redeem whatever cliches are employed by simply overthrowing them. Even the bouncy closer Teahouse On The Tracks boasts a sophisticated interplay of vocal choir and horn fanfare that turns the tables on disco-music. The eight-minute On The Dunes is an abstract mini-concerto of timbres and pauses for a restrained soul meditation in the vein of Stevie Wonder.

Decade (MCA, 1985) is the anthology of the hits.

The duo reformed for Two Against Nature (Giant, 2000), that returned to Steely Dan's trademark sound with Gaslighting Abbie and boasted the tour de force of West Of Hollywood. Everything Must Go (Warner, 2003) was less inspired although still impeccably produced (Godwhacker, Green Book).

Fagen's Morph the Cat (2006) is a fresco of New York after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Fagen has a hard time rendering the sense of paranoia through a sleek pop music that is fundamentally the antidote to any sort of paranoia.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Mauro "Jimmy" Vecchio)

Dopo la separazione (Becker era notoriamente dipendente dalla droga), Fagen registrò due album, distanti undici anni l’uno dall’altro: "Nightfly" (Warner, 1982) è una raccolta dolce e sentimentale di musica intima, la quintessenza dell’arte degli Steely Dan, costruita intorno ad un collegamento con le sue origini (alla Pete Townshend), mentre "Kamakriad" (Reprise, 1993) è un lavoro sottile psicologico e, concettualmente, molto più ambizioso di quanto avesse mai fatto prima (Trans Island skyway, Tomorrow’s girl).

"Decade" (MCA, 1985) è un’antologia di successi.

Il duo si riformò per "Two against nature" (Giant, 2000) che ritorna al tipico suono degli Steely Dan con "Gaslighting Abbie" e che vanta il "tour de force" di "West of Hollywood".

"Everything must go" (Warner, 2003) è meno ispirato sebbene ancora prodotto in modo impeccabile (Godwhacker, Green Book)

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