Everything Must Go

Steely Dan

2003: Reprise 48490-2

  1. The Last Mall
  2. Things I Miss the Most
  3. Blues Beach
  4. Godwhacker
  5. Slang of Ages
  6. Green Book
  7. Pixeleen
  8. Lunch With Gina
  9. Everything Must Go

After Steely Dan surprised us with Two Against Nature, after all those quiet years, there was no question that I would get whatever came next just to see if the winning streak could be sustained (I seem to recall they won a Grammy for Two Against Nature, but the winning streak I have in mind is that of the winning sound formula so long absent from the musical landscape). They did it—it’s not a repeat of the previous album, and probably only a logical continuation, but to have that continued at all is just lovely to enjoy.

Pretty much every track here has its own little cosmos for which it is perfectly constructed, yet all the tracks fit well next to each other—“Everything Must Go” being the exception, as it kicks off with an unpaced “last hurrah” instrumental fanfare which tells you right away it’s the last dance of the night, the janitors want to clean up, and the band’s tired and wants to hit the road. It’s hard to call out individual tracks because paradoxically each of them is so juicy…it seems like a disservice to dwell on them when you’re not actually listening to them because anything else is just a pale photocopy. But in case you actually happen to be listening to a track I reference here, I’ll count that as justification and soldier on into the fray. (Then again, the most frequent re-reader of these music-celebration pages is me myownself, as I enjoy reading even my own appreciations of music I love.)

“Things I Miss the Most” is so affably sweet but hides behind its nonchalant shuffling walk that if it weren’t for the dissembling choruses it might sound too offhand to get into at first…a lovely little treat to refresh the palate after the brightly cynical opening track. “Blues Beach” just is NOT fair—catchy beyond words, in such a warm and groovy way, with personalized details to give it the feel of a specific little moment of intimate cinema without serious drama, and it just gets more comfy as it nears the indefinite end.

“Godwhacker” is swaggeringly biting and picks up where “The Last Mall” left off in attitude, and to have it followed by the barfly ramble “Slang of Ages” (courtesy of Mr Becker himself in a rare vocal turn if not a particularly enjoyable one given the drunken/weary cluelessness of the character’s tone) is both natural and a little disappointing; I personally don’t like to listen to the latter, but as a song outside of this context it’s not bad, I just find Becker’s delivery alienating. “Green Book” wraps up the alienation with countless unspecified allusions in a vague but almost-dark-edged impressionist portrait.

And then the fun begins as we get “Pixeleen,” a marvelous pseudo-ode to a digital adventuress whose adventures mix action-flick-turned-Nintendo-world extremes with the mundane “realities” (if such they are) as interruptions from her boyfriend or her father via cellphone or pager. It would be just a cute smirk of a song it weren’t for two things: the slightly-lush vocal harmonies which drape the chorus and the endless string of seemingly ornamental adjectival phrases sung by a female singer in counterpart to the song’s title throughout the choruses (especially “screened at a festival in Utah”); those underscore the unreal nature of the subject matter in an almost sing-song kind of ongoing afterthought, a touch which makes me smile and nod in appreciation to Fagen and Becker (and anyone else who helped create the effect).

As droll as that was, “Lunch With Gina” is just YUMMY. This is for sure this album’s “Cousin Dupree” from Two Against Nature—slightly funky, slightly slinky, very chattily familiar, and entirely too infectiously bumptious if you intend to sit still while listening to it. The lyrics, as with those of “Cousin Dupree,” are completely comfortable and invite casual enjoyment, while that rhythm and instrumental arrangement (especially those trumpets!) keep one in a subtle strut throughout. Their choice of wording and phrasing does lead to some interesting ambiguities here, my favorite tease being the flexibly interpretible “the waiter never comes” (given the circumstance of its delivery as the singer has been waiting for a long time for his tantalizer to show up at a restaurant).