Music

Steely Dan: Showbiz Kids: The Steely Dan Story 1972-1980

James Mann

Steely Dan

Showbiz Kids: the Steely Dan Story 1972-1980

Label: MCA
US Release Date: 2000-11-14
Amazon
iTunes

Everyone with an ear for music has a guilty pleasure. Even those of us who labor in the incredibly profitable field of music criticism are not immune. For every obscure, limited-edition tribal remix that we trumpet, there lurks the well-played Kiss album. Sure, we herald each new face in Britpop like a reinvention of sliced bread, but we really go home and put on some bit of nostalgic earfloss that makes us feel warm and fuzzy.

Mine is Steely Dan.

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen have created cold, technically perfect and emotionally hollow music for almost 30 years, and short of Kraftwerk, they come the closest to rock music by robot we've yet encountered. So why do I enjoy them? Why did I request this CD for review, only to hear the same cuts I've heard for years? Is it the wry lyrics of Fagen or the perfection of the A-List studio musicians they assemble for each album? Perhaps. All of their music is neatly mannered, every note in its place. A less rambunctious rock organization can scarcely be imagined, but for me that's part of their appeal. From 1972's "Can't Buy a Thrill" to the latest works, a Steely Dan song sounds incredible in headphones. The songs production seems geared to this format -- and the lyrical content, which seem to reflect a very sheltered, solitary worldview, is perfect for those of us who would call ourselves misanthropes -- if we could only spell it. The characters of Fagen's songs all seem to be looking back ruefully at failed relationships -- such as "Reelin' in the Years" or "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" -- or dreading the prospect of future entanglements as in "Hey Nineteen". Heaven knows what it says about me, but "Deacon Blues"'s "They got a name for the winners in the world / I want a name when I lose" has always struck me as a classic bit of rock poetry. Floating along on a psuedo-jazz backing, the song creates such a feeling of alienation and self-betrayal that at the wrong time, listening to it hurts.

But at other times the world realized by Becker and Fagen strikes as an incredibly funny place -- strange, to be sure, but still ironically amusing. Hell, the band took their name from a sex toy in a William Burroughs book. Not exactly starting off the journey on normal street. Listen to the lyrics of "FM" sometime. This strange tale of "grapefruit wine" and "funked-up Muzak", served up in a nice lush bed of strings and a sax solo, is deceptively calming. Or "Babylon Sisters" refrain of "Babylon sisters shake it"? A very strange song, made even odder by virtue of the fact that it comes closest to being Steely Dan by proxy -- Donald Fagen's vocals being the only contribution from the pair on the track.

I doubt anything I could say could sway anyone into the Steely Dan camp at this late date. But perhaps in admitting a fondness for the twisted lyrics and icy professionalism they embody will give others the strength to admit their secret musical loves. Maybe not. Either way, anytime you feel like mellowing out with the "Cuervo Gold and fine Columbian", I've got the soundtrack.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Rather than once again exploring the all-too-familiar territory of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva's debut novel contextualizes the work's origins and gets inside the mind of its creator.


Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been told and retold so many times over the years that, by this point, one might be hard-pressed to find a single soul evenly glancingly familiar with western culture who isn't at least tangentially acquainted with the holiday classic. This is, of course, a bit of holiday-themed hyperbole, but the fact remains that the basic premise of A Christmas Carol has become so engrained in our culture that it would seem near impossible to imagine a time prior to its existence. It's universally-relatable themes of the power of kindness, redemption and forgiveness speaks to the heart of the Christmas season – at least as it has been presented in the 174 years since it was first published in 19 December 1843 -- just in time for Christmas.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Following his excellent debut record Communion, Rabit further explores the most devastating aspects of its sound in his sophomore opus Les Fleurs du Mal.

Back in 2015 Rabit was unleashing Communion in the experimental electronic scene. Combining extreme avant-garde motifs with an industrial perspective on top of the grime sharpness, Eric C. Burton released one of the most interesting records of that year. Blurring lines between genres, displaying an aptitude for taking things to the edge and the fact that Burton was not afraid to embrace the chaos of his music made Communion such an enticing listen, and in turn set Rabit to be a "not to be missed" artist.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image