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Reviewed by - George Bennett

Steely Dan


Released: August 26, 2003
Origination Year: 1980
Time: 37.49
Tracks: 7
Produced by: Donald Fagen
Style: Studio
Format: SACD
Enhancement: DSD

Miles Davis, the jazz icon, is credited with The Birth of the Cool.  If that's the case, then it must be Steely Dan who slipped the cool into rock'n'roll...well, not really rock'n'roll per se, more like jazz inflected pop, with an attitude.  Steely Dan were once a real band, but quickly disintegrated into leaders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (vocals/keys and guitar, respectively, and both songwriters) and various well-known studio rats (among them Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Denny DiasBernard Purdie, Steve KhanRandy Brecker, Tom Scott, David Sanborn, Rick Moratta, and Stevie Gadd).  They became popular rather quickly with the higher-minded, hip set, and caught on soon after with the general public.  This, in and of itself, is truly amazing for two reasons:  except in the very beginning, they did not tour in support of their albums, which was unheard of at the time and deemed absolutely necessary for sales and success, and, their music was not like anything being played on any popular Top 40 or underground radio station.  Everything should have been stacked against them, but the music won out over all current popular wisdom of the time.  Alot of bands were deemed cool, but if any of them were cooler than Steely Dan in cutting lyrics or  steely-smooth instumental prowess, I don't know who they were.  (Please insert your vehement challenge here and send it to me.)     


To once again relate the well-known story (as a legendary tale such as this must be kept alive, don't chu know!):  Fagen and Becker were studious types, met in college, and named their band after the metallic dildo in William Burroughs' infamous novel 'Naked Lunch'.  Remember this, kids, and tell it often - it must be remembered for the coming generations, as this is one of those great little rock'n'roll stories, and, as well as anything, explains the attitude of Steely Dan...cool, smooth, unfeeling, yet slinky and sexy as hell.  The boys are rather patronizing and philosophical in their lyrics, with a predilection to the cerebral and a disdain for sentimentality and romanticism.  Very original, off-putting, and yet universally accepted.  And the attitude doesn't stop with the lyrics.  The musical arrangements reflect the same attitude in aural execution. 


I liked the Dan's first album, 'Can't Buy a Thrill', and its ubiquitous single, 'Reelin' in the Years'.  Really good stuff.  But it was 1973's 'Countdown to Ecstasy' (the second album) and, in particular, the track 'Bodhisattva', that hooked me like a dumb fish on a smart hook.  That lead guitar (either Denny Dias or Skunk Baxter) just nailed me to the floor!  Stick a fork in my ass and turn me over, I'm done! (sorry, Lou).  I thought I'd heard it all with that solo.  Still amazes me to this day.  Wanna be my friend?  Put that sucker on and I'll be right over!  ('Countdown to Ecstasy' is the first of the Steely Dan SACDs I'll be gettin' come July 20th!)  From then on, I worshipped at the altar of Steely Dan.


To help tide you over, and hopefully, whet your appetite, for the six new Steely Dan re-releases  (the first seven minus 'Gaucho') in SACD hyrid format, slated for July 20, 2004, we take a listen to the SACD hybrid edition of The Dan's 'Gaucho', now available with DSD multi-channel, DSD stereo, and PCM (CD) stereo.


Gaucho is so squeaky clean, crystal clear and tight that, in sound and execution, it qualifies as one of the Top 10 SACD demo-discs now available.  You simply MUST hear this one in SACD 5.1 multi-channel.  As I have stated before, I am a big fan of a well-done multi-channel release, and Gaucho absolutely drives it home!  If, after hearing this one in demonstration or at a friend's (with a properly set up and calibrated system), you are not impressed, then SACD, DVD-A and hi-res in general are not for you.  Save yourself some time and money and don't bother.  Wouldn't you know, Elliot Scheiner, he of the magic-mixing-hands-and-ears for hi-res discs, is the remixer here.  The man is an amazing talent, and apparently just needed hi-res multi-channel to come along for him to reach full-bloom.  I think he was put on this earth, if for no other reason, to show others how it should be done!  One can feel safe in buying any hi-res remix/remaster done by Mr. Scheiner (just some examples:  Queen's 'A Night at the Opera', REM's "Automatic For The People", 'Toto IV').


This mix is sheer perfection in transparency, openness, frequency response, front soundstaging, and front to rear blend, as it were.  One can hear every note, every instrument, plainly and clearly.  Nothing is hidden...and man, is this ever great music to hear in every last detail!  'Babylon Sisters' is cut one, and is, arguably, the most perfect SACD demo song on the disc for the quality of music, audio, and hi-res multi-channel mix.  It's tight, open, sparse, clean, and dry.  In the front soundstage, the drums are tight, and instrumental placement laterally is excellent.  The horns and backing vocals are blended front and rear, with beautifully tinkling chimes in the rears only.  Off to the left, in a "ghost" position between the L front and L rear, is a guitar that comes in only after each Babylon Sisters chorus, while in the R surround there is a slight guitar synchopated on the up-beat.  This is clinical audio dissection, folks...absolutely stunning! 


'Hey Nineteen' was the radio hit from this disc, and will probably sound familiar (let's hope) for that reason.  Here the rear surrounds come alive with the backing vocals, and later a gourd and congas are leaked to the rear during the instrumental break ("nice", says Fagen - very nice, says I !).  'Glamour Profession' uses the rear surrounds more liberally now, as keyboards and guitar pop little beat accents to each side, and the backing vocals come thru smooth as silk.  The sax is in the fronts and rears equally, and there's some little, brief lead guitar licks in the rears as well as various percussion instruments (block, muted cowbell) that come along later as the song progresses.  'Gaucho' places the sax and other horns in the L/R fronts and surrounds - the effect is outstanding.  The keyboards come in front and are leaked to the surrounds.  Backing vocals fill the room from both fronts and surrounds.  Excellent!  A triangle and chimes come in the rears as the song moves along.  These songs are building blocks, little by little, to perfection!!  'Time Out of Mind' places the keyboards in all four corners, as well as the horns, which are stronger in the surrounds.  Same for the backing vocals.  As the tune progresses, organ fills the rears, and there are quick little guitar fills in the L rear.  'My Rival' highlights the mix from front to rear, a delicate balance that creates 3-dimensionality and sounds very natural (as thoughout the disc).  The organ lead springs from all four corners.  Suffice it to say that the last cut, 'Third World Man', is just as outstanding sonically, with horns and guitar L/R front and rear.


Well, come July 20th, there will be an old, well-played 'Citizen Steely Dan' CD Box Set up for sale, containing all seven of the new SACD titles in CD format on four discs.  It has served me well.  Any takers?  This Gaucho SACD is one of my pride and joys, and really shows off the SACD hi-res format.  If the other six Steely Dan SACD releases are as good as this one, Steely Dan will be playing in demo-rooms throughout the land!  All choices should be this easy.  Do not miss 'Gaucho', or the other six, for that matter...I know I won't!!


Track Listing:

Babylon Sisters / Hey Nineteen / Glamour Profession / Gaucho / Time Out of Mind / My Rival / Third World Man.

Audio Features -
PCM Stereo
DSD Stereo
DSD 5.1 Surround

Steely Dan:

Donald Fagen - Vocals / Keyboards
Walter Becker - Guitars

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