Album: Two Against Nature

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Album:

Two Against Nature

Artist: Steely Dan
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Label: Giant Records / Wea

Never so much a band as the slyly crafted specter of one, Steely Dan’s mid-1990s “return” to live performance was as surprising as it was perverse. They’d previously toured only once, round about the era of Watergate, pet rocks, and Shaft. A half-decade after their concert comeback and a mere 19 years after Gaucho seemingly closed out their recording career, the jazz-pop conceit of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen deliberately dropped back into a recording landscape where they weren’t so much seasoned vets as alien ambassadors…

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Never so much a band as the slyly crafted specter of one, Steely Dan’s mid-1990s “return” to live performance was as surprising as it was perverse. They’d previously toured only once, round about the era of Watergate, pet rocks, and Shaft. A half-decade after their concert comeback and a mere 19 years after Gaucho seemingly closed out their recording career, the jazz-pop conceit of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen deliberately dropped back into a recording landscape where they weren’t so much seasoned vets as alien ambassadors. Two Against Nature, indeed. The tack is instantly familiar: a musical/lyrical reconciliation of Monk and Newman, with familiar harmonic flourishes, nimble studio chops, and an icy, world-class cool, as willfully insulated from hip-hop and techno as it was from disco and Top 40. Less concerned with melodic hooks than a canny sophistication of mood and manner, Becker and Fagen never let a trite melody get in the way of a good story, whether their protagonists are plotting some nefarious obliquity (“Gaslighting Abby”), Southern-fried incest (the deliciously funky “Cousin DuPree”), or bleakly confronting dashed expectations (“What a Shame About Me”). A little more musically languorous perhaps, its trademark cynicism now undercut by hints of sadness and regret, this is nonetheless a Steely Dan album worthy of the name, and like the best of them, one whose subtle charms reveal themselves in surprising ways. -Jerry McCulley

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