Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Steely Dan settle for ear candy on their new CD

Less Filling

***

STEELY DAN
Everything Must Go
Warner Bros.

Of course, the new Steely Dan album sounds great. Try downloading this sucker, the grizzled grouches mutter. We dare you. Even a deaf dolt like you, Mr. 80GB Information Thief, can discern how much textured dimensionality the conjoined soul thrushes and tasty licks that trick up "Godwhacker" lose in MP3 form. If the world is headed for a fall, as is foreseen here from "The Last Mall" to "Everything Must Go," it might as well go down in the most luscious live-tracked stereo civilization has ever achieved.

But though it's tempting to read apocalyptic premonitions into Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's suave pessimism, this is the same worldview they've purveyed since 1972's "Do It Again." The main difference is the sci-fi that came on board as of Fagen's 1993 Kamakiriad. And as with their Grammy-winning comeback, Two Against Nature, sexual contretemps dominate. Some tread old ground: "Things I Miss the Most" catalogs the ruins of a divorce ("The talk/The sex/Somebody to trust," and then immediately, "The Audi TT/The house on the Vineyard/The house on the Gulf Coast"), and "Lunch With Gina" examines another of the obsessive relationships that pervaded Two Against Nature. But the sour "Blues Beach," the "cyberqueen" fantasy "Pixeleen," the sex grid of "Green Book" and the Becker come-on "Slang of Ages" all sample dystopian futurism.

As premonitions go, Everything Must Go is well-turned but overfamiliar. So as with Aja--the duo's biggest and very nearly emptiest record--its value ultimately reduces to textured dimensionality and tasty licks. Me, I can name many saxophonists I'd rather hear 100 seconds of than Walt Weiskopf, who plays the inflated intro to the climactic title tune.

Rolling Stone, June 26, 2003