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Published: 2003/08/28
by Jeremy Welsh

Everything Must Go – Steely Dan

Reprise Records 48940-2

The Grammys seem to have a pattern of awarding musicians for their
previous achievements after their popularity has begun to wane. The
famous example is from 1988 when Jethro Tull was given the award for
Best Heavy Metal performance. It is surprising that flute-toting Ian
Anderson was even in the running in that category. Three years ago, the
Academy again recognized an artist for their previous achievements,
awarding Steely Dan for their album Two Against Nature. Winning four
awards, including Album of the Year, Two Against Nature was Steely
Dan's
first studio album in 20 years. The slickly produced comeback was a
wonderfully "typical" Steely Dan album – ironic lyrics about life in New
York sung over complex and orchestrated instrumentation. It was indeed a
strong album, but whether it deserved Album of the Year is debatable.

Steely Dan has always been a band to successfully create a feeling or
mood in the listener. This was done by combining intelligent and
creative narration with unique and intricate song writing. Their
melodies were often complex, combining rock with jazz. And for all of
their progressiveness, there has always been a clear Steely Dan sound —
their songs are immediately recognizable as Steely Dan songs. On their
new album, Everything Must Go, it feels as though Walter Becker and
Donald Fagen decided to simply rest on their laurels, go through the
motions, and not really provide listeners with anything new. As it says
in a press release, there was "the satiated afterglow, the languorous
cigarette, the mild depression" after the surprising success of Two
Against Nature. What was not delivered was anything new. The songs on
Everything Must Go sound as if they were from Two Against
Nature's
sessions – songs that might not have made the cut, but following a
particular formula. You have a song about X, another about Y. And
musically, there is little to hold your attention.

The pervading theme of the album is that of a nearing end. "From The
Last Mall," "Things I Miss the Most," and "Everything Must Go," one gets the
feeling that Fagen and Becker are viewing their middle age that they
addressed in Two Against Nature with a sense of finality, almost as
thought it is time for them to move on. The song chosen for the first
radio single is "Blues Beach." With its upbeat bluesy sound, it speaks of
escaping the City to the beaches of Long Island. The most interesting
song on the album – both musically and lyrically – is "Godwhacker." Sticking
with the them of the album, it is a song about one's life – and his sins – catching up with him as his life is winding down. The telling lyric
is "Be very very quiet/Clock everything you see/Little things might
matter later/At the start of the end of history." Just a simple warning
to pay particular attention to how you move throughout your life.

Steely Dan has appealed to fans for thirty years because of their
unique – and identifiable – combination of rock, jazz, and pop. Their
albums, while having that Steely Dan sound, had enough subtle and
interesting twists and stories to tell to hold a fan's attention. With
Everything Must Go, it is as if they have lost a desire to make their
music interesting and have decided simply tell their stories. Everything
Must Go certainly sounds like a Steely Dan album — just not an
interesting one.

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