Steely Dan

Two Against Nature

  • Giant

While their first new studio album in 20 years isn't about to surpass earlier Steely Dan classics like 1975's Katy Lied or 1977's Aja, it is nevertheless a remarkable comeback from two of rock's quirkiest but most captivating characters.

Steely Dan masterminds Donald Fagen and Walter Becker have filled this with all the group's trademark elements — impeccable musicianship, masterful production, and the effervescent blend of jazz, rock, and soul that's always been at the core of their sound.

While their lyrics can still be cryptic — the album opener "Gaslighting Abbie" is just one that's ripe for multiple interpretations — there are also times here where the writing is strikingly direct. "What a Shame About Me," one of the set's best songs, finds Fagen singing about two old flames and a chance meeting at New York's fabled Strand bookstore. She's gone on to find fame in Hollywood, he's a struggling writer who's fallen on tough times. Equally straight-on is "Cousin Dupree," whose lecherous lead character gets his kicks from hitting on a younger cousin while wondering "what's so strange about a down-home family romance?"

While those latter two tracks are making their way to radio, the disc's most unforgettable cut is "Almost Gothic," which sounds like it would have fit perfectly onto Aja. With its lush harmonies, muted trumpet solo, and evocative melody it brilliantly recaptures the sense of wonder that ran through so much of Becker and Fagen's finest work.

While not all the writing is quite up to that standard, overall this marks a spirited return to form.

Kevin O'Hare