It's been only three years since Messrs. Becker and Fagen came back from the frozen carbon chamber with Two Against Nature. This second studio release since their reformation includes all of their familiar hallmarks: the meticulous, veddy careful multilayered instruments and production, the tasteful jazz breaks, Fagen's sneering, irony-laden vocals and obtuse tales of losers, freaks and pervs, all leavened by the best use of female backing singers of any rock band ever.
Everything Must Go still finds the duo with Armageddon on the mind, whether religious ("Godwhacker"), consumer (the fine "The Last Mall") or corporate (the title track, a not-so-subtle swipe at the Enrons of the world). Fagen sounds more fatalistically resigned than ever. Indeed, he seems to long for oblivion -- on "The Last Mall" and especially the title track you get the impression that he would happily straddle the bomb down to ground zero like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove while dissolving the corporation "in a pool of margaritas."
But despite their modern take on the day's headlines, it's the twisted tales of relationships gone awry that really stand out. There's the jettisoned husband who bemoans the loss of the Audi TT and the house on Martha's Vineyard just as much as the sex in "Things I Miss the Most," the porn-shop connoisseur in the slinky "Green Book" (their most old-school track) and the video game/anime fanatic with one hand on the mouse and the other under the desk in "Pixeleen," getting off to the "flash of spectacular thigh" of his cyberqueen. And even when female attention comes from a living, breathing, 3D woman -- as in "Lunch with Gina" -- the broad turns out to be a stalker.
Not all songs score, but the sole stinker is "Slang of Ages," in which the tone-deaf Becker talk-warbles his way through a harrowing experience for the listener, his first (and hopefully last) lead vocal on a Steely Dan record. However, he does stretch out musically, contributing much of the bass and -- in a new development -- many guitar solos as well.
Overall, it's not as strong as Two Against Nature, but Everything Must Go finds Becker and Fagen still aging gracefully from young cranks into old ones. And like Nature, it has a sort of timeless quality -- chronologically, it could have dropped almost anywhere in their catalog. Some may see Steely Dan's music as more sterile than soulful, but it's one of the few classic rock dinosaurs that thrived after the meteor labeled "1990s" crashed into the earth.
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