Alive In America

Steely Dan

Giant / Warner Brothers, 1995

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


The reunion of Steely Dan in 1994 could be best described as finding a pair of old shoes under your bed that you really loved because they were so comfortable. What you maybe had forgotten about those shoes was the way they smelled, or that the soles were nearly worn out.

Alive In America, an admittedly studio-doctored disc that captured Walter Becker and Donald Fagen on the road as Steely Dan for the first time since Countdown To Ecstasy, was less about setting the world on fire with their rebirth as it was getting comfortable again with the music that made the band legendary. While the new version of Steely Dan does bring back memories of the old standards, the magic of seeing them live is definitely lost without the visual images.

In a sense, Becker and Fagen were fighting a losing battle with this tour, despite the generally positive press they received for it. No matter which songs they selected, there would be some hardcore fans who would wonder why their particular favorites weren't included. (I, myself, longed to hear "Do It Again," undoubtedly my favorite Steely Dan track.) Yet if they varied from the original song even by one note, the same purists would be up in arms decrying the way the classic was butchered -- never mind the fact that they should be thrilled they were even hearing these cuts performed live.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Although this disc is a pastiche of Steely Dan's 1994 tour, it does feel like it takes some time for the band to really warm up and get the excitement level going. I don't know if "Babylon Sisters" was necessarily the right track to get things moving -- and I'll admit I don't really care for the key being dropped a notch, though I understand why it maybe was necessary.

But once Becker and Fagen get rolling, Alive In America does seem to come to life. "Green Earrings" may seem like an odd selection, but when paired up with "Bodhisattva," it's a one-two punch to the sternum that works well. Likewise, "Kid Charlemagne" seems like an odd choice to play live, but they are able to generate more than a little interest in this all-but-forgotten track.

There are a few missteps along the way, though. While I understand that music must change in order to keep things fresh, I can't say I like the new take on "Reelin' In The Years." I kept hoping to hear that knife-sharp guitar solo that opens up the studio version, but despite repeated listenings to this album, I realized it just wasn't coming. And while I understand the Steely Dan reunion came about due to Becker and Fagen's solo works, the inclusion of "Book Of Liars" seems out of place, despite the fact it's the first time in Steely Dan's history that Becker took the role of lead throat.

Still, there are some great performances on this disc worth shouting about. "Peg" sounds almost spot-on, despite the passage of over 15 years, while "Sign In Stranger" -- one of their best songs forgotten by commercial radio -- loses none of its power. And to hear "Aja" performed live is, pure and simple, a treat.

Admittedly, Alive In America is not a disc you're going to get the first few listens, and it definitely does help to have more than a passing knowledge of Steely Dan's back catalog before diving into this one. But while I should be thrilled to even have the chance to hear these tracks performed live, I did find myself longing for the chance to see these performances for myself. Yeah, I understand that DVDs weren't in the marketplace back then, but a boy can dream, can't he?

Alive In America is the kind of album that will please the diehard Steely Dan fans, but most likely confuse anyone who thinks they know the band because of what they've heard on the radio. It's an interesting way to announce to the world you've returned from a decade-plus long vacation.

Rating: C+

User Rating: C-



© 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 Giant / Warner Brothers, and is used for informational purposes only.