You could just imagine kids on American Bandstand in the 1970s struggling to make sense of the latest Steely Dan single: "Well, the beat's kinda weird. You can't dance to it. And the words don't make any sense. But I like it." With wryly observant yet cryptic lyrics, juiced-up jazz-rock arrangements and appealing high-register vocals, Steely Dan sounded unlike anything else on the radio then—or now. The group once rescued the Top 40 from its disco doldrums. Now founders Walter Becker (guitars, lyrics) and Donald Fagen (keyboards, lead vocals) return with their first album in 20 years. With their latest group of crack backing musicians, they create nine tracks full of melody, wit, pathos and other hard-to-find pop attributes. With Fagen in fine voice and Becker's view of the world as skewed as ever, these new tunes bristle with lyric twists and surprise tweets and bleats of Fagenarranged horns. While exact meanings are sometimes obscure (Could "Gaslighting Abbie" really be about pyromaniacal lovers?), such tunes as "What a Shame About Me," "Cousin Dupree" and "Janie Runaway" are classic Steely—full of vivid imagery, odd humor and hooks galore.
Bottom Line: Still can't dance to these Two, but give 'em a 10