I liked Countdown to Ecstasy more than any other Steely Dan record I’ve ever heard. And it imbued me with the hope that I would hear further records, probably from this time in their career, that I would also enjoy more than most of their records. I had that hope until I listened to this record.
I guess this is the demarcation line for me: I liked aspects of the previous record and hoped they would continue on this record. But they are muted (albeit still there) and the things that I don’t like about this band have become more prominent, and it sounds like the mature Steely Dan, the band I dislike, is in the process of arriving.
As I have noted elsewhere, I feel like Fagan and Becker like certain aspects of jazz and I like very different aspects of jazz. They want to play jazz chords and progressions but they don’t want to do much else jazzy. I cannot deny that these songs are sophisticated compared to the average pop rock of the era; they are. But I don’t like them. I blame the arrangements.
The arrangements are, as you would expect, slick. There are moments of an edge here and there, but way fewer than on the previous record (though more than on some later records). To the extent that there is an edge here at all, it just makes you miss it the rest of the record, when it’s not present.
Fagan’s lyrics are literate as always. Every time I concentrate on them I think I would like them so much more if I liked the music they were sung over. (I am not saying I love him as a lyricist, but just that the music is an extra hurdle that keeps me from appreciating him to the extent that I should.)
Once again I listen to one of their records and all I’m left with is thinking how hip they must have thought themselves when they put this out.
PS Doesn’t Pretzel Logic make you think you’re going to listen to something mathy?