Countdown To Ecstasy

Steely Dan

MCA, 1973

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


By 1973, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen -- the minds behind Steely Dan -- had apparently honed their musical edge to the jazz-rock that the group would become known for. Their second disc, Countdown To Ecstasy, is the first real effort in that vein -- Can't Buy A Thrill was more of a rock-oriented "feeling-out" period for the group as they got their sea legs under them.

Yet, despite the presence of some very powerful tracks, this disc pales in comparison to its predecessor. Maybe -- just maybe -- it's because the change into a jazz-rock band is so sudden and complete that it catches the listener off-guard. Maybe, because they didn't quite follow the same pattern musically that they did on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Can't Buy A Thrill -- and I'm not saying they should have -- people didn't react with the same enthusiasm to this disc.

Make no mistake, Steely Dan has lost none of its musical edge or brilliance. The leadoff track "Bodhisattva" hammers that point home clearly in an amalgam of shuffle blues, rock and jazz, and could well be one of Steely Dan's best tracks that few people know about. Simply put, this track is a lot of fun to listen to, and demonstrates the musical excellence that Becker and Fagen demanded from their revolving-door slew of bandmates.

The other two tracks off this disc that occasionally see airplay, "Show Biz Kids" and "My Old School," don't pack the same kind of wallop that "Reelin' In The Years," "Do It Again," or even "Bodhisattva" do. "Show Biz Kids" is the weaker of the two, with its constantly repeated (and grating) rhythm line and chorus chanting "lost wages," apparently a slap at Las Vegas. [Editor's Note: According to the band, it is a line taken from Lenny Bruce, who used to refer to Las Vegas as "lost wages."] "My Old School" is a shade better, but isn't the juggernaut that one was probably expecting from Steely Dan.

Interestingly enough, some of the better tracks on Countdown To Ecstasy are ones that you never hear played unless you're sitting there with the CD jammed into your player. "Razor Boy" hints at what would be coming from Steely Dan in their Aja period, but dares to suggest that the band had already achieved that level of perfection so early in their career. And, while I admit I wasn't particularly interested in these tracks on the first pass, both "The Boston Rag" and "Your Gold Teeth" do grow on the listener, and prove to be worth the effort.

By no means is Countdown To Ecstasy a bad album; in fact, hiding in the shadows of a disc like Can't Buy A Thrill, this one might be a prime candidate for re-discovery by fans of smooth rock. But it does signify the major shift of Steely Dan's focus from the world of rock to a more jazz-oriented existence -- and I, for one, kind of wish that Steely Dan had explored the rock side just a little bit more.

Rating: B-

User Rating: B+



© 2006 Christopher Thelen 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 MCA, and is used for informational purposes only.