Monday, January 17, 2011

Steely Dan Pretzel Logic Review

A couple of months ago I picked up a used (boarder-line thrashed, actually) vinyl copy of Steely Dan's 1974 album Pretzel Logic. It isn't one of the Steely Dan titles that was on eMusic last time I checked and I'm trying to cut down on the money I give Apple Inc., so when I saw the vinyl copy for just a few bucks I grabbed it. The clerk in the shop mentioned this is a title that never says in the bins very long.

Now I know why. Pretzel Logic is somewhere in between Aja and a Steely Can greatest hits compilation in quality. It's that good! The only "hit" here, based on charts and recurring radio play, is "Ricky Don't Loose That Number." Yet, most of the album's eleven tracks are of that quality. Listening to Pretzel Logic for the first time felt like hearing a secret Best Of that had been restricted to songs I had never heard (except "Ricky Don't Loose That Number" and "East St. Louis Toodle-oo").

Aside from being blown away that these songs had escaped me until now I was also struck by how short they are. Out of eleven tracks only two crack 4:00. A whopping six are under 3:00. It is true that the band's longest songs, where jazz influenced solos take center stage, mostly appear on later records. This record takes the pretzel for short songs however, even over their first two studio albums.

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the core of Steely Dan, are remarkable songwriters. Here on Pretzel Logic, where the songs don't leave room for much soloing, they can only show off their other outstanding talents, top notch arranging and first rate songwriting. It still sounds like Steely Dan. Their sound is unmistakable. It's a compact, highly efficient Steely Dan.

Also, engineering legend Roger Nichols makes sure we hear exactly what we are supposed to hear. Even through the crackles and pops on my copy I can always here the song through the sound. It sounds great, of course. All Steely Dan records sound great, but this one is all about the songs.

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