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Katy Lied
Steely Dan

ABC D-846
Released: March 1975
Chart Peak: #13
Weeks Charted: 26
Certified Gold: 5/12/75

Steely Dan sound like a million dollars not only next to at least 26 of their coresidents of the Boss 30 when they're in it, but also in comparison to three-quarters of the stuff with which they share FM needletime.

The lead singing of Donald Fagen, which sounds to these old ears like a strange hybrid of the Mike Love of "California Girls" and pre-motorcycle-wreck Dylan, is engagingly distinctive.

The words, while frequently not easy to get the definite drift of, are almost always intriguing and often witty. And they mount them on accessible tunes punctuated by quite nice harmony-laden refrains.

Steely Dan - Katy Lied
Original album advertising art.
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Instrumentally, they (and the studio pros they've recruited to accompany them on record) are veritable paragons not only of dexterity but also of taste. And, unlike 95% of the people currently making "serious" music, they know when to shut the hell up -- neither a solo nor a whole track lasts longer than one wants it to.

Why, then, do I -- without the slightest intention of undermining anyone else's enthusiasms for it -- find myself not caring if I ever again hear any of Steely Dan's music up to and including Katy Lied?

It has to do primarily with the fact that, however immaculately tasteful and intelligent it all may be, I personally am able to detect not the slightest suggestion of real passion in any of it. Fagen's singing is indeed engagingly distinctive, but for me the accent's a little too clearly over the distinctive: It sounds as though he's a great deal more concerned with style than with expression.

When it comes to the words he's singing, I feel all too frequently as though I must choose between concluding that I'm a thickhead and suspecting that the Dan lyricist either is too lazy to make his stuff penetrable or else is oblique simply to conceal the fact that, however faciley he may string together unusual and interesting images, he really hasn't much to say through them. While such typical lyrics as, "Throw back the little ones/ And pan fry the big ones/ Use tact, poise and reason/ And gently squeeze them" greatly interest me, I can make only the wildest guess as to what Messrs. Becker and/or Fagen wanted to tell me about their perception of the world.

Likewise, the instrumental statements -- by Dan perennial Denny Dias and an awesome array of guest stars -- are a great deal more impressive for their taste and proficiency than they are moving.

Thus, while I can scarcely help but at least a little grateful for it in this, the year of Barry White, Steely Dan's music continues to strike me essentially as exemplarily well-crafted and uncommonly intelligent schlock.

- John Mendelsohn, Rolling Stone, 5/8/75.

Bonus Reviews!

I admire Steely Dan -- or, more accurately, I admire Walter Becker and Donald Fagen as writers and melodists -- but I am disappointed in this album. A Steely Dan outing usually includes one outstanding tune. This time they get close but never quite make it. Though some of the writing here is taut and fine, Steely Dan too often depends for melody on fill-ins played by a number of guitarists, including Becker and the little-known but greatly accomplished Hugh McCracken. The fills attempt to bolster the performances, but nothing can replace the absence of a real melody or improve a mediocre one.

There may be extenuating circumstances. The group is temporarily in flux, the regular supporting musicians having departed. Here the back-up is provided by studio men, and although their efforts are professional, there is a lack of the spirit which only the interplay of a living, working band can spark. Still, Steely Dan at half power is better than most other groups at full power. Maybe next time around they'll come up with some of the peculiar, arresting melodies of which they are capable. I live in hope.

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 8/75.

One of the few groups that has managed to save rock from the complete doldrums over the past several years is back with a set that is as musically and technically rewarding as their first three. Group guiding lights Donald Fagen and Walter Becker continue to pen some of the most interesting songs in pop music, the arrangements, as always, are unique to the group and the overall sound is one of ease that few artists today can attain. There is a jazzy feeling to many of the cuts, punctuated by strong rock guitar solos and a totally distinctive feel. There is a great skill in making highly complicated music sound easy, and this is exactly what Steely Dan does time after time. Certainly the premier American rock group to emerge in several years, and an album here that will not disappoint any of their fans. Best cuts: "Black Friday," "Bad Sneakers," "Doctor Wu," "Your Gold Teeth II," "Any World (That I'm Welcome To)," "Throw Back The Little Ones."

- Billboard, 1975.

Anonymous, absolutely impeccable swing-pop. No cheap displays of human emotion.

- Cameron Crowe, Rolling Stone, 12/15/77.

Opening with an economic crash and closing with a smacked-out rumination about succor, betrayal, and Vietnam, the first side seems surprisingly sweet and lyrical -- mostly by way of the Manhattan nostalgia of "Bad Sneakers," and the faithless passion of "Rose Darling," but also, and most tellingly, in the rumination. This is a matter of rhythm and timbre rather than verbal content -- the music lets us know that their cynicism is no more a celebration of cynicism than their smack references are a celebration of smack, lets us know we can break the habit. By comparison the three skillful urban miniatures on side two seem thin and tight, never quite brought around by the more expansive emotions of "Your Gold Teeth II" (throw them out and see how they roll) and "Any World (That I'm Welcome To)" ("Is better than the one I come from"). A-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

With its appealing melodies and oddball themes, this was a strong successor to Pretzel Logic. By this time, Steely Dan was Becker and Fagen, aided by an army of Los Angeles's "A"-list session stars -- Hugh McCracken, Larry Carlton, Jeff Porcaro, Hal Blaine, Michael McDonald, and more. Sonically, Katy Lied's super-clean mix pointed the way to the elegantly shrink-wrapped sound of their later work. Among the standout tracks are "Black Friday," "Daddy Don't Live in That New York City No More," "Chain Lightning," and "Throw Back the Little Ones," featuring an expressive closing piano improvisation by Michael Omartian. * * * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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