Steely Dan, Everything Must Go (Warner Bros.)
The greatness of steely Dan lies in their pranks and grooves. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker possess a sensibility so coolly ironic that its peer is not in pop music but in Elliott Gould’s masterful portrayal of Philip Marlowe as a pooped philanderer in The Long Goodbye. And the inheritors of the pair’s expansive jazz-rock sensibility are not in rock; they’re in beat-oriented music like hip-hop and house. But Steely Dan’s new album fails at what the band does best. The jokes are oddly, inexplicably stale (on “Green Book,” a cashier is described as resembling Jill St. John), and the music is too often a bland boogie. Fagen and Becker have always flirted with fusiony tropes (long, woozy bridges, soft jazz horns), but here the style simply feels affectless. A couple of songs—“The Last Mall,” with its refrain of “Last call / to do my shopping / at the last mall,” in particular—come close to capturing Steely Dan’s acid wit. But Fagen and Becker don’t take the gags far enough; they’re only half-funny. For a band once so flawless in its sense of humor and its pranks—they offered Rock and Roll Hall of Fame voters Fagen’s childhood piano and a case of honey mustard as an incentive to induct them—Everything Must Go is a profound disappointment. It’s like a Christopher Guest film without the laughs.
GD Luxxe, The 21st Door (Interdimensional Transmission)
Electro revivalists recall the eighties genre with reverence, but producer GD Luxxe (a.k.a. Gerhard Potuznik) gleans something entirely different from its jittery beats: a pre-millennial nightmare. On his new album, Potuznik’s beats, usually crisply clear, are tetchy, wobbly, almost unsure of themselves. And the bass lines are serrated or so guttural they’re almost gaseous. The 21st Door feels dark and claustrophobic, the sonic equivalent of the crowded market scenes in Blade Runner. Potuznik’s interpretation of electro is anything but narrow, however: On Â“Changed Body (Angels),” he moves effortlessly from martial, industrial-styled percussion to washy, ambient synths. It’s the sort of wet-eyed electronica that trance producers like Paul Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk have tried and failed at for years. They should take a lesson from Potuznik: Optimism sounds a lot better when it’s earned.