Steely Dan

MCA, 1980

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


After releasing undoubtedly their best album in 1977 with Aja, the question was how Steely Dan would top that effort. Aside from a fight with MCA Records, who acquired the band's label at the time, ABC, and precluded them from releasing any new material (except for the title track to the FM soundtrack), I mean.

The answer, as heard on 1980's Gaucho, may not be the answer that some people wanted to hear -- namely, they couldn't top it. Instead of continuing to challenge themselves musically, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen -- and their cavalcade of hired guns -- instead play it safe and try to re-create the jazz-rock amalgam that made my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Aja successful. One little problem, though - this disc is downright boring.

Oh, make no mistake, I haven't forgotten the fact that this disc contains one of Steely Dan's best singles of all time, "Hey Nineteen," a track that does seem to feature Fagen at his loosest behind the microphone in an almost Dylan-esque performance. Likewise, "Time Out Of Mind," while not quite in the same ballpark as "Hey Nineteen," is the forgotten gem on this disc, and is well worth re-discovery.

So, that leaves five songs on this disc to talk about - and I'm probably committing a mortal sin when I say that, of Steely Dan's "hits" played on classic-rock radio, I've never really liked "Babylon Sisters." Unlike other songs in the band's catalog, this one comes off as bland and lifeless, almost as if Steely Dan was phoning in their performance.

I'd like to say that, as a listener, there was something left on Gaucho that re-awakened some level of excitement in this disc; sadly, this is not the case. Tracks like "Glamour Profession," "Third World Man" and the title track never really seem like they get off the ground musically -- surprising, especially seeing that three years passed between Aja and Gaucho. Maybe, despite a comment I made in an earlier review about Steely Dan being on an assembly line of doing an album a year, leaving things cook too long actually hurt this disc.

So why is Gaucho so revered? Maybe it is because of "Hey Nineteen" and "Time Out Of Mind" -- and you can get those songs on any number of the best-of collections out there. Maybe it was just the joy of seeing another Steely Dan album on the market back then -- or the fact that Steely Dan went on hiatus for well over a decade.

The truth of the matter is that Gaucho, had it remained the final disc that Steely Dan ever put out, was a weak effort, and not the best way to cement their legacy as musical pioneers. Still, the one or two great songs on this one make it worth at least checking out.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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