By Graeme Hammond
Melbourne Sunday Herald Sun
Strictly speaking, Steely Dan ceased as a functioning unit 20 years ago with the release of the exquisite Gaucho, which yielded “Hey Nineteen” and “Babylon Sisters.”
Like partners in a well-mannered divorce, however, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen maintained warm diplomatic relations: Becker collaborated on Fagen’s futuristic Kamakiriad in 1993, then received the same favor from his old buddy a year later on the sprawling 11 Tracks of Whack. With a proven ability to explore the outer boundaries of their particular patch of jazz pop, however, it is a shame Steely Dan have stayed so safe on their long-awaited return.
Always a band in evolution, each of their albums had a distinct mood: Can’t Buy a Thrill was sharp, Gaucho milky and The Royal Scam biting, yet alongside these, Two Against Nature is simply bland. Narcotic.
Snappy lyrics — check out the sly tale of kissin’ cousins on “Cousin Dupree” then cast your mind back to the homo-eroticism of “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” — are not enough to save this set.
The lilting “Almost Gothic” offers a rare respite from the sterile jazz funk, yet alongside this the terrain is very flat indeed.