Steely Dan: Everything Must Go

Steely Dan: Everything Must Go

It's closing time in the land of Steely Dan, but Walter Becker and Donald Fagen sound like they made peace with the apocalypse years ago on the new Everything Must Go. The shops may all be shutting down for good in "The Last Mall," but on a cosmic scale, is that really so different from divorce? That's the subject of "Things I Miss The Most," in which Fagen's newly liberated swinger takes inventory of what he's left behind (which ranges from "someone to trust" to "the Audi TT") before concluding, "Days really don't last forever / it's getting pretty damn close." No wonder the end of the world seems like a break from the tedium. Three years ago, Steely Dan marked the end of a 20-year recording hiatus by releasing Two Against Nature, resuming a long-term project of hiding perverse, cranky sentiments in music so smoothly ingratiating that it operates almost subliminally. So it goes with Everything Must Go, which, with the Dan's famed meticulousness, resumes Nature's tales of doomed love and pleasures that turn bitter almost as they take place. There might not even be a real woman at the center of "Pixeleen," a winning pop song on the order of Aja's "Peg," but with what sounds like a video-game heroine taking the place of a naïve starlet. (Maybe the group's longstanding interests in technology and exploitation have finally caught up with each other.) Apart from Becker's first lead vocals on a Steely Dan album (on "Slang Of Ages"), Everything Must Go doesn't offer any significant departures. Fagen and Becker perfected their airless craftsmanship years ago, and it works as well now as ever, whether the songs detail the ersatz funkiness of "Blues Beach," consider an affair that's sure to end badly ("Lunch With Gina"), or put a commercial spin on the end of it all (the bookend tracks "The Last Mall" and "Everything Must Go"). If it did all end tomorrow, chances are Steely Dan would find a way to offer a wry comment on that, too, assuming that enough backup singers and session musicians survived.

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