"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Thursday, June 19, 2003

my latest cd review for the paper


Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Everything Must Go

Steely Dan

Warner Music, 2,400 yen

Back with a new album after a relatively short break this time, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen's follow-up to 2000's album-of-the-year Grammy winner Two Against Nature is more of the same jazz-infused pop soul that made the band one of the greatest of the '70s and '80s.

Becker and Fagen have not mellowed with age, merely honed their dry, dark wit. The differences between Everything Must Go and earlier classics like Aja (1977) and Can't Buy a Thrill (1972) are superficial and tracks from the new album would have been quite at home on any of the band's earlier albums.

Gone are hot studio guitar players like Skunk Baxter and Denny Diaz from the early incarnations of Steely Dan. In their place we find Becker's polished, precise riffs and Fagen's lush horn arrangements.

Fagen's keyboard chops and clear, plaintive voice have lost nothing from the band's heyday, and Becker, in addition to playing all the driving, funky bass on the album, has come up yet another notch on this album from his exceptionally tasty solo guitar work on Two Against Nature. He also makes his debut as a lead vocalist on "Slang of Ages."

From their earliest work, there has always been a decadent feel to Steely Dan's immaculately arranged studio pop. That theme continues here on songs like "Things I Miss the Most," with the singer bemoaning the loss of "the talk, the sex, the somebody to trust, the Audi TT, the house on the Vineyard, the house on the Gulf Coast."

Such delightfully snide criticism of materialism runs through album bookended as it is with "The Last Mall," a singing commercial for an Armageddon day sale, and the title track, a last memo from a corrupt CEO whose corporate malfeasance has caught up with the whole company.

A Steely Dan album is like a chocolate eclair--its arrival gives us pleasure and its departure merely makes us hungry for more.

On and On

Jack Johnson

Universal, 2,427 yen

Former professional surfer and filmmaker Jack Johnson's second album On and On, is, like its creator, a product of Hawaii.

The album was recorded in Johnson's studio there, with one track recorded live, complete with breaking ocean wave accompaniment, at a beach barbecue at his brother's home.

Johnson is reminiscent of that guy you knew in university who played old classic rock tunes on acoustic guitar around the bonfire or in late night dorm-room jam sessions. He wasn't the greatest guitarist or singer, but fun to listen to. Now suddenly that same guy is making hit records, but he hasn't really changed.

By most accounts, Johnson's success as a musician has come almost in spite of his relaxed approach. The intimate feel of On and On gives new meaning to the term "laid back."

Simple three-chord guitar grooves, backed with basic drums and bass and topped with idiosyncratic lyrics delivered in an almost hip-hop cadence make for a folky, eminently listenable, relaxing album.

Despite the laid back feel of On and On there are flashes of poetic cleverness in songs like "The Horizon Has Been Defeated" ("People are lonely and only animals with fancy shoes") and Symbol in My Driveway ("I've got a perfect set of blueprints/I'm gonna build somebody else") and some fairly muscular guitar work that in another setting might seem bombastic, but here acts more like an extra

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