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Steely Dan: Two Against Nature


Steely Dan

Album: Two Against Nature
Label: Giant

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Steely Dan was one of the most curious—and, by nature of its mammoth popularity, most subversive—bands of the '70s. Songwriters Walter Becker and Donald Fagen refused to tour, choosing instead to retreat to the studio with some of the world's finest session players to perfect their smooth fusion of jazz, R&B, and rock. (Legend has it that they did so many takes, it wore the emulsion right off the tapes.) Wolves in sheepskin, Steely Dan's songs, full of dark and strange subjects and sung by the relatively unpolished Fagen, were at odds with what constituted hits at that time. But what would you expect from a group named after a dildo in Naked Lunch? Despite a fervent following, Becker and Fagen disbanded after the release of 1980's Gaucho and went on to solo careers and peripheral projects, working intermittently but never reuniting. In the meantime, Steely Dan's fan base continued to expand, while the band's '70s work ironically and both inadvertently ushered in an era of lite-jazz and somehow became a touchstone for several hip-hop producers. Go figure. Becker and Fagen did eventually reteam as Steely Dan in the '90s, but—ever the contrarians—solely as a live act. Now, a full 20 years after its last studio release, Steely Dan is back with Two Against Nature, an album that sounds like the '80s and '90s never happened, which, in light of Becker and Fagen's scant output, might as well be true. The album's resemblance to Steely Dan's most popular Aja-era music is uncanny, with "What A Shame About Me," "Jack Of Speed," "Cousin Dupree," and "Negative Girl" sounding like lost tapes rather than new compositions. In this sense, Two Against Nature is less a comeback than a pick-up, cause for all those closet Steely Dan fans to finally peer out from their backrooms and bachelor pads, leave the house, and head to the record store for the first time in two decades.