By Dan LeRoy
It will be easier for most to talk about what Walter Becker’s second album (his first in 14 years) is not — an effort that sounds like another outing from best-known and -loved sophisticates, Steely Dan — than what it actually is. It’s as modest as Becker’s admittedly limited vocals, yet Circus Money also can be as slyly insinuating as his bass lines.
The sonic sheen that characterized the sound of his regular group is still intact; combined with the reggae groove that predominates, the vibe is ironically just as suggestive of the laid-back coked-up ’70s studio scene as any of Steely Dan’s hits. The more pertinent similarity, however, comes through Becker’s familiar, cynical catalog of Los Angeles losers and louts, from the gamble-it-all Betsy Button of “Door Number Two” to the familiar casting-couch scenario of “Three Picture Deal.”
What’s missing are the occasional go-for-your-throat hooks that so often allowed Becker and Donald Fagen to embed their jazz-based sophistication in so many minds. But given its more restricted musical scope, Circus Money offers a quietly pleasurable way for Dan fans to do it again.