The Austin Chronicle

Record Reviews

Reviewed by Greg Beets, March 31, 2000, Music

Steely Dan

Two Against Nature (Giant)

As high schoolers, my friends and I listened to Steely Dan and imagined we were sophisticated California snobs doing champagne and cocaine out by the hot tub circa 1976. Somehow, went the rationalization, the Dan's mellowtone jazz-rock vibe elevated the pursuit of lifelong adolescent decadence to an art form. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were the supreme articulators of the elegantly wasted, casually sexed adults we yearned to be. Perhaps it's a backhanded embarrassment that some of us never graduated from Busch to "the fine Columbian," but it's no more of an embarrassment than Steely Dan recording their first studio album in 20 years and sounding exactly the same as they did on 1980's Gaucho. Doing an impeccable job of avoiding anything that might change your feelings, positive or negative, toward the Dan, Two Against Nature features Fagen lyrics as lecherous as ever (if not more so due to his advancing years), and a sound that's pure performance car showroom; you could spin this in Accounts Receivable and the blue blazers would be none the wiser. Unfortunately, the band's latter-day tendency to stretch a groove to its breaking point adds an element of tedium to songs like "Negative Girl" and the title track. Although there are some fine horn arrangements (Chris Potter's sax solo on "West of Hollywood"), we never get to hear Becker cut loose on guitar à la "Black Friday." Would it kill these guys to snap out of smug refinement for just one song after 20 years!? Ultimately, the best thing about Two Against Nature is that it's scads more interesting than any other recent release from the School of Classic Rock Summer Shedders, but I can't imagine what that has to do with anyone born after 1980.


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