Steely Dan's EVERYTHING MUST GO, from 2003, their most recent disc, has pretty much sat on my shelf since its release. I saw this tour in Albany, New York in 2003, and it left an itching for the introduced songs from the album, especially, "Things I Miss The Most". I also got a new Steely Dan T-shirt, ("I got the Steely Dan T-shirt!"), and this CD.
But my interest in the CD waned over the subsequent years, and it was not a disc I played much. 1972's CAN'T BUY A THRILL, still sparkles with cheery melody and hooks, and 1974's PRETZEL LOGIC, still caused me to appreciate a dark low cloud hanging over my head, but EVERYTHING MUST GO, moved as slowly as a Monday morning on Tylenol PM. With this successor to the 2001 Grammy winning TWO AGAINST NATURE, I was hoping The Dan would return to a rock-pop roots, say the garage rock meets high art sophistication of 1973's COUNTDOWN TO ECSTASY, or maybe a smooth and disturbing KATY LIED, (1975), for a post 9-11 world. But you go back Jack, and do it again. The sound here is similiar to the agreeable but bland light jazz of TWO AGAINST NATURE, which was released after a hiatus of 20 years. After 20 years, most rock acts would be dead, or signed to Ringo Starr's All Star Band.
With EVERYTHING MUST GO, maybe fans like myself were tired of the passive and retired Steely Dan, churning out agreeable jazz-pop ditties as effortlessly as one would burp after drinking a can of Dr. Pepper. As of this writing, EVERYTHING MUST GO is the only one of Steely Dan's nine albums to not reach at least gold record status. In comparison, just a few years before, TWO AGAINST NATURE, scored double-platinum sales.
But recently, I was in dire need of a music to patch up some holes in my heart. Nothing special, just a basic "I hate your guts and I want to see you rot in hell" sort of melody. I know of no better pill for vengeance than Steely Dan's COUNTDOWN TO ECSTASY. And man, it worked. Every skipped heartbeat, every saddened gulp, every clenched fist, was remedied, indeed glorified in a victorious and mean spirited way by Steely Dan's biting, blood trickling, sardonic break-up album. Take that, bitch.
Amazed at how the right music can truly soothe the soul, and in this case, comfort the nagging memory of a ruined relationship, I re-explored Steely Dan's entire catalogue, finally landing on the ignored EVERYTHING MUST GO. Indeed, I know these albums by heart, but they sounded so alive hearing them again, as if I was back in my teen hood marveling to COUNTDOWN TO ECSTASY, with enough weed consumed on that album alone to finance a new Hyundai.
It's that first song on EVERYTHING MUST GO that throws me off. "The Last Mall", is a simple and tiresome song that initiates the album's theme of equating a financial and global ruin with the break-up of a relationship. It sounds as tedious as it's tenure of pushing a shopping cart with a wobbly wheel through a store. An apocalyptic, new age, store-is-closing sale where, "the tools for survival, and the medicine for the blues, sweet treats and surprises, for the little buckeroos", are to be greedily gobbled up by survivalist consumers.
But the songs get better, and "The Last Mall", in all it's easy irony may pave the way for the solid spoils of collapse that follow. "Things I Miss The Most", detailing life after divorce, is where one can forgive Steely Dan the velvety smooth slickness, just short of a xylophone solo and a bubble making machine, because they do it so well. Upbeat yet resigned piano keys court bluesy guitar and muffled sax in a touching, if thirsty, tribute to a marriage - "The talk, the sex, somebody to trust, the Audi TT, the house on the vineyard, the house on the gulf coast, these are the things I miss the most".
I hated the exhaustible "Blues Beach", when I first heard it and now I love it. It's that damn Steely Dan hook - gets me every time. It pushes the boundaries of familiar pleasantry, (think "Peg"), until you surrender to it's hypnotic bounce because it's taken up residence in the most musical and vulnerable part of your brain. An escape to 'blues beach' is a fantasy 'getting away from it all' for the middle aged set, - "I was scraping bottom, gropin' in the dark, it takes a crusty punk, to really beat the mean streets of medicine park". Only lyricist, singer Donald Fagen can say he's "chillin' at the Manatee Bar", and not sound like a total dweeb. It's also got those Dan signature hushed and exotic female backing vocals, which is always a nice touch, and a male falsetto, something new.
"Godwhacker", is Steely Dan funk, their most predictable and dull musical style; ("Josie" from AJA). It's a dark foray into a planet and mind cleansing from the schizophrenic threatening powers that be, - "Be very, very quiet, clock everything you see, little things might matter later, at the start of the end of history".
"Slang of Ages" is the first time Walter Becker, one half of Steely Dan, generally the composing half, provides lead vocals on a Dan studio album, and he possesses an effortless and handsome style, with just a hint of vocal prowess, already proven on his impeccably lush "Book of Liars", from 1995's live ALIVE IN AMERICA. Again it's a smoother than fresh taffy richness that slides through Becker's half spoken vocals and Fagen's sharp and funny lyrics delivered to a newly hatched pop generation diva, - "Now did you say you were from the Netherlands, or was that Netherworld?, if you grew up in Amsterdam, then I'm the Duke of Earl".
"Green Book" is an ominous reference to film noir and atomic holocaust, (it name drops the classic Mickey Spillane film, "Kiss Me Deadly"), in a night through an urban underworld of shadowy alleys and dangerous downstairs bars, where "my coat is black and the moon is yellow", and "the new cashier looks like Jill St. John".
"Pixaleen" is a catchy and nasty number about a pixilated and genuine teen superstar running amok in an action packed, terrorist backed digital film. OK, maybe not, but it sounds like this, - "And when Abu rams the clip in the mingles, up on the catwalk inside the warehouse, you whip a knife from the top of your go-go boots, with just a hint of spectacular thigh".
"Lunch with Gina" sounds like a dreaded meeting with your ex-partner, - "The waiter never comes, God knows the service could be better, lunch with Gina is forever".
You could slow-dance with your soon departed mate in title track, "Everything Must Go", a sweet and resigned kiss off to a major deal gone bad, be it marriage, business, or a pissed off god with a breath of global warming. It strangely mirrors today's corporate financial disaster with a horde of fresh bankroll for the recipients of the spoils of war, -"It was sweet up at the top, 'til that ill wind started blowing, now it's cozy down below, 'cause we're going out of business, everything must go".
While starting off as a meek Steely Dan album, (I'd add THE ROYAL SCAM to that list), EVERYTHING MUST GO, recently became my favorite bit of music, finding regular rotation in my player and in my mind, six years after first hearing it. While COUNTDOWN TO ECSTASY allowed me to express frustration and exorcise demons, and stopped me just short of visiting a shrink, or taking a clandestine meeting with an expert in voodoo doll culture, (the thought barely crossed my mind), EVERYTHING MUST GO is the cool comedown. A reminder that life goes on with or without a companionable world around you. You got to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go get blitzed. Better yet, go chill in a beach bar in the southern hemisphere. Watch some porn.