This is funny, tasteful and indispensable for any Dan fan.
Chris Jones 2008-07-16
The 'other half' of rock's most erudite partnership finally, after 14 years, makes his follow-up to the criminally underrated 11 Tracks Of Whack. Steely Dan's albums were always marked by stunning musicianship joined at the hip to intelligent lyrics. And while their lead singer, Donald Fagen's solo projects are often so much like those of his band that they make you wonder why he needs Becker at all, the answer resides here. Circus Money is every inch the equal of anything Fagen's done, and shows that what he brought to the table was not only a broader musical palette than their signature watertight jazz funk but also a considerable dollop of humour. This is funny, tasteful and indispensable for any Dan fan.
Becker's contribution to 'the Dan''s oeuvre was also the handling of a lot of the bottom end. Here he plays bass throughout and it leads the album by the nose. Allegedly influenced by his recent diet of classic Jamaican music, the whole album has a reggae slant. However, whereas previous famous efforts to graft the hipster cynicism of New York to the musical patois of Kingston were admittedly lightweight (cf: Haiitian Divorce) this has a more dubwise feel, especially on the contender for 'best track', Do You Remember The Name, or on the rock steady rumble and skank of God's Eye View, where he emulates the space and experimentation of Lee Perry (yes, really!).
Thematically it's just as grown-up a sketchbook as you'd expect, most of the tracks being co-written for the first time with Joni Mitchell's ex, Larry Klein. Selfish Gene returns to the lascivious game of philandering from the perspective of Richard Dawkins; Darkling Down features the type of uber-loser that so often crops up in Steely Dan songs and Three Picture Deal revisits the detached outsider's overview of Babylonian LA. And while Becker's voice may never match the existential whine of Fagen's signature style, his weary, seen-it-all pipes suit the wry, amused-at-the-ridiculousness-of-it-all-tone, especially when pitched up against the sweet Greek chorus of the female backing singers.
Of course it's all played IMMACULATELY. How could it not be when you've got Dan cohorts like Keith Carlock on the drums or Jon Herrington on guitar? The result is an album that fits perfectly within the canon of the mighty parent group, while giving us plenty of food for thought. Brilliant.