‘Katy Lied’: The truth is superfine

STEELY DAN: ‘KATY LIED’ (ABC Records ABCL 5094).

YOU KNOW how it is with these aces: first time, you think, human tasty muzak; next play, you start to ge hooked onto a melody here and there and a fragment or two of those enigmatic lyrics; the third time around you’re just plain hooked.

They’ve never made a bad record, and the departure of Skunk Baxter and Jim Hodder doesn’t seem to have changed that one iota. The arrangements and production are once again so perfect they’re almost clinical, the musicians, a studio-welded bunch of craftmasters, beyond reproach and the songs a clutch of Becker and Fagen’s impeccable originals.

Steely Dan that oft sought-after phenomenon, 70s rock: the ultimate synthesis of everything everyone else has done, cast in the crucible and returning in a new guise. From Latin to Motown, from those chilling West Coast harmonies, to the supple rhythmic base, they’ve soaked it all up and come out sounding like no-one except themselves.

For once they’ve printed the lyrics on the inner sleeve, but to tell the truth, their meaning still escapes me nine times out of ten for with Steely Dan, it’s as often the mood that music and words combined create, as the straightforward lyrical meaning, that counts. Thus on “Everyone’s Gone To The Movies,” the opening line: “Kids if you want some fun” is couched in such a musical context that you just know something wicked this way comes. Similarly, there is an implicit sneer in the tones of “Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More” which gives the simple lyrics a real leery edge.

I’ve no idea what’s going on in “Dr Wu” from which the album title is taken, but the cool pastoral mood and especially the lilting jazzy sax solo set off the gentle ambiguity of the words to make a fine song. All the familiar hallmarks of Steely Dan are here: the progressive chord changes with guitar, piano and voices in harness, the ethereal voices, the deft instrumental work, the smoothness that never degenerates into blandness; even the occasional dash of real punchy rock and roll. Hell, it’s the superfine mixture as before, what more could you ask for?

Mike Flood Page, Sounds, 5.4.75

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