The Ambassadors of Musical Perfection
(The following review was published in the Indiana Daily Student August 3, 2006)
During their zenith Steely Dan was a pioneer of highly polished and perfected music that somehow managed to dodge one specific genre. While some might liken the unique group to fellow rock bands like The Doobie Brothers or Chicago, Steely Dan stands out as innovators of a sound and style that can only be described by listening to its music. It’s not quite rock, not quite jazz. It’s riddled with subtle laid-back R&B and soul flavors, but only below the surface. Dan is poppy when it wants to be but gives straight pop a twist. Above all, the band has always relied on the best musicians around to create the slickest of the slick.
Katy Lied, Steely Dan’s fourth studio album, followed the highly notable and successful Pretzel Logic and is important as being the first album recorded after the band’s major decision in 1974 to stop touring and focus solely on studio sessions (a decision that cofounders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker would maintain up until the ’90s). The result is an album that is not only nearly flawless but dabbles in a slew of diverse styles and utilizes an eclectic group of talented studio musicians including the crooning soul vocals of future Doobie Brothers member Michael McDonald.
Songs like the funky melodic rock anthem “Bad Sneakers” or the mock jazz ballad “Your Gold Teeth II” feature tightly composed guitar solos, lounge style piano riffs, lyrics that don’t insult our intelligence and an overall feeling of precision that shows a devotion to the music that is often absent from bands in the studio.
Katy Lied may not be Dan’s best album to date since the band has a rich cannon behind them but it is important, as it served as a vehicle for future studio focused endeavors. The album is easily accessible–clocking in just above 30 minutes. The collection of songs are all catchy but also force the listener to appreciate the sound much like a great jazz player, and for anyone who says that the music sounds dated, corny or overworked…Well, only a fool would say that.