Fans of Steely Dan will be glad to know that the band is alive, well, and as snarky as ever. After surprising virtually everyone with their Grammy-award winning "comeback" Two Against Nature in 2000, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker have teamed up again for Everything Must Go, a brief (clocking in at just over forty minutes), self-produced effort. Similar to Nature, Steely Dan – that is to say Fagen, Becker, and some of the finest studio musicians that money can rent – remains in fine form, though Everything Must Go finds the bemused duo a bit more relaxed and groove-oriented (though equally tight and exacting). Two Against Nature seemed to pick up right where Gaucho left off some two decades before, and Everything Must Go seems to pick up somewhere between Fagen's solo effort Kamakiriad and Two Against Nature. While the pair do not exactly tread any new musical ground here (with the notable exception of Walter Becker's vocals being front and center in "Slang of Ages" and his taking over of all guitar solos and bass duties), their jazz / blues / rock / pop perfection continues to please – if not astound – especially upon multiple listens.
Beginning on a sardonic note of apocalypse in "the Last Mall" (and picked up again in "GodWhacker," one of the standouts here), Fagen's lyrics remain wry and surprising. His hepcat lothario persona of "Deacon Blues," "Babylon Sisters," and "Hey Nineteen" may be waning in his later years and suffering from separation ("Things I Miss the Most"), but he's still on the prowl and keeping tabs ("Green Book," "Blues Beach"). The leering and desire are also evident in "Pixeleen," in which he may be suggesting that the "we can't talk at all" dynamic is rendered enhanced, moot, or even nostalgic by virtue of the digital age. In any event, it's certainly preferable to the stalking noted in "Lunch With Gina." By the time Everything Must Go literally closes shop with the title track, Steely Dan's catalogue of hip cognizance acknowledges its own final futility with a typically ironic wink.
For the most part, Everything Must Go is sprightly, mid-tempo and super-clean, with Fagen's vocals – as acquired a taste as their overall sound – continuing to comment rather than inform. Although some may argue that the disc's lack of outright surprises and reliance on signature is evidence of the band resting on its laurels, I suspect it's largely a thematic choice. Though the world has undergone quite a few changes in the past few years (notably so on the East Coast, and especially in New York, as it relates to Dan), the veneer seems to have reclaimed its prominence after the temporary, purported soul-searching. If the apocalypse is indeed-a-comin', there are plenty that will choose not to acknowledge it, or greet it with a "pool of margaritas" and a pack of Luckies. Smoke 'em if you got 'em and enjoy the ride.
• the Last Mall
Audio: Everything Must Go is presented in DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1 advanced resolution Surround Sound (96kHz / 24-bit), and advanced resolution stereo (96kHz / 24-bit).
Not surprisingly, Everything Must Go is given a stellar sonic treatment. One does not have to enjoy Steely Dan's music to appreciate their always laudable, perfectionist production values and virtuoso musicianship, and it will prove impossible not to appreciate the effort here.
From the opening moments of the jaunty first track ("the Last Mall"), their trademark sound simply envelops the listener. Granted, it's all ridiculously slick (not sure if I mean that as a pan or a compliment, but since it's Steely Dan, the point is moot anyway), but the richness of the bass and utter clarity is simply astounding. The surround sound is perfectly balanced and never ostentatious – no gimmickry in the seamless separation is to be found, just the occasional flourish added to the fantastic mix.
Produced by David May and re-mixed for DVD audio by Elliot Scheiner, Everything Must Go sounds nothing short of superb.
Extras: Included in this DVD audio release are a Photo Gallery; Production Credits; Song Credits; and also by Steely Dan.
Lastly, there is a Steely Dan Confessions featurette (13.23), which finds Fagen and Becker spoofing HBO's Taxicab Confessions. The duo, along with a few different passengers, riffs on the name Ralph (pronounced "Rafe" as in Ralph Fiennes), what they do for fun ("there's brooding," notes Becker; Fagen mentions Penguin Classics), comment on the Grammy awards ("I don't trust my peers" says Fagen), hit a fast food drive-through, and generally behave like the iconoclasts they are.
Final Thoughts: I doubt that Everything Must Go will win Steely Dan any new converts – I have yet to meet a person who is indifferent to the band's sound – but insofar as preaching to the choir is concerned, it's a worthy addition to their collection. As to whether or not the DVD audio is a must-have, my vote is a resounding yes if you're a Dan enthusiast. My DVD audio version of Fagen's the Nightfly is vastly superior to my old compact disc (which was excellent to begin with), and I can only presume the same advantages are to be found here. I cannot imagine the band sounding any better than they do in this release, especially on the DTS track.
Highly recommended to those already familiar with – and fond of – the band and its unique universe, and recommended in general to those who fully appreciate what DVD-audio has to offer.