Two Against Nature

Steely Dan

Warner Brothers Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Tommy Johnson


Some people love this stuff- others hate it. The ones that love it, love it because it sounds perfect. The ones that hate it, hate it for the same reason. It doesn't make sense, but that's how it is. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were perfectionists already back in the early 70's, and they still are. They were/are considered to be musician's musicians. It was probably this perfectionism that caused them to break up in the early 80's.

Luckily they reunited in the early 90's, and here it is, the long anticipated comeback - Two Against Nature. Steely Dan's first album in 20 years. Nine songs that all have their unique feel to it, and musicianship that is out of this world. Musical satisfaction from the very first note to the very last. A clean, fresh and inspirational sound that will certainly brighten your day.

These guys could spend several weeks trying to find the right guitar- or drum sound that they are looking for. Some people may think that it's more physics than music. But when the result turns out to be an album like Two Against Nature, you certainly understand why they are taking such a time making it. The making of this album started in 1996 and ended in the summer of 1999. Their special mixture of jazz and pop is so meticulous and perfect that a lot of music critics don't know what to complain about. Obviously, they want to complain about something, but there's nothing there to complain about. Then some smart guy came up with the idea of complaining about what's good. They mean that "well played" is "boring". So is bad good? And good bad? And could good be good?

Most of today's rock critics would call Two Against Nature not only boring, but also un-inspired and lifeless. They couldn't be more wrong. Since it was 20 years ago since Steely Dan released their last studio album, Becker and Fagen were more creative than ever this time. It certainly paid off. This is one of the few albums that I recommend to everyone. I'm pretty sure that most of you will like it, but if you don't like it, at least you get yourself a new sound experience. Or just a circle shaped mirror.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

To tell you the truth; I've never been much of a "lyrics person". I don't know why, but I think that the one and simple reason is that most (not all) of today's lyrics, quite frankly, aren't good. When you're listening to some new bands (and old), you find it rather scary that nothing gets said. You've heard it all before, but with a different melody. It's like giving the microphone to a mute. That isn't necessarily a bad thing; maybe lyrics should be about insignificant things. Becker and Fagen's lyrics aren't world changing either, but at least they are extremely entertaining.

I've never found lyrics so well written as the ones that Steely Dan delivers on this album. They're humorous, cynic, witty and ironic. A treat to hear. It's like reading a good book; you've just got to find out what happens in the next verse. "Cousin Dupree" is a prime example of that. Could the Dan's sense of humour have something to do with the fact that the excellent Chevy Chase was their drummer in one of their early bands, The Bad Rock Group? Probably not. But still, it's a fun fact.

Becker and Fagan have always surrounded themselves with top-notch musicians. So is also the case on this recording. However, I expected to find a lot more well known names on the musician list, such as Jay Graydon, Michael McDonald, Larry Carlton, Steve Gadd, etc. But no. None of them were playing. When you think about it; this musician change have always been a part of Steely Dan. "It wasn't like they played musical chairs with the guys in the band, they played musical bands. A whole band would go, and a whole incredible other band would go in", one of their drummers once said.

The production is perfect. It's not overproduced; it is something between total sharpness and total softness. You're able to listen to the rhythm guitar or the Wurlitzer, and then you can follow this instrument throughout the song. Most often this isn't possible, unless you're in a studio. It never gets messy, but it does get thick.

The production has a very noticeable New York feel to it, while it also has some L.A over it. It is so familiar and yet so new and fresh. It never sounds dated. A cup of coffee and this CD could easily entertain you an entire weekend. Okay, now I feel pathetic, but my point is that this is the kind of recording that you'll never grow tired off. Each listen brings you something new, something that you've never heard before. A modern classic.

"What A Shame About Me", track two, is one of my favourites. The horns are right up in your face, the drums have a great tight groove, and the lyrics are very humorous. This song, as all the others are written by Becker and Fagen. No outside writers. Man, they're good songwriters.

Lennon/McCartney, Henley/Frey, Becker/Fagen. Really.

Each one of these nine songs are different in it's own way. When you listen through the entire CD at once, it feels like you've been on a journey. The music makes you think, you just can't think about anything but the music. I get excited when I listen to Two Against Nature, because it's always nice to know that wonderful albums in this genre are still being made.

It's certainly a grower. At first; I thought it was pretty OK. Now when I've listened to it a couple of times, I can easily say that it's one of the best albums so far in the 21st century. It won four Grammies, including the Grammy evening's top honor - Album of the year.

"You can't buy a thrill", they said back in '72.

You sure can.

Rating: A

User Rating: A-


© 2002 Tommy Johnson and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.