Review Summary: Steely Dan's "jack of all trades" album, Katy has a little something to please everyone, even if she is a horrible liar. A great place to start if you're a Dan newbie without access to a greatest hits album.
Jettisoning many members of the original Steely Dan lineup and any pretensions that they were still a rock band in any traditional sense of the term, songwriting duo Donald Fagen and Walter Becker returned to the studio in the winter of 1974-5 along with a huge cadre of top-tier studio musicians. Although some previous members of the band like Denny Dias continued to contribute to instrumentation and soloing on Katy
and subsequent albums, Steely Dan was firmly a Fagen/Becker project in the second era of their history.
Along with Pretzel Logic
is an album of transition, and perhaps the most impressive thing about both albums is the degree of refinement that both albums display. Production is top-notch on Katy
in spite of the misgivings of the notoriously obsessive Fagen, and songwriting is as solid as anything on Can't Buy a Thrill
, Countdown to Ecstasy
, or Pretzel
(trademark smarmy lyrics included at no additional charge). Unlike the former three albums, however, is Katy's increasing emphasis on texture and jazz. While SD is commonly referred to as jazz-rock, the first three albums and The Royal Scam
as opposed to Aja
lies somewhere between these two groups, if trending a bit more towards the rock side. This is both the album's strength and weakness--it simultaneously provides plenty of nods to both Steely Dan albums yet to come and Steely Dan albums already released.
On the extreme jazz-rock
side of the equation, we have "Black Friday", the album's most well-known track, "Chain Lightning," a bluesy number similar to "Pretzel Logic" on the album of the same name, and "Throw Out the Little Ones," a call-forward to the biting lyrics and guitar of The Royal Scam
. In the other corner, we have "Rose Darling" and "Doctor Wu," the closest track to Aja
that you won't find on Aja
. Where Katy
really shines, however, is when she manages to perfectly balance old and new. Michael McDonald, best known as one of the lead vocalists for The Doobie Brothers, makes his Dan debut on "Bad Sneakers" and helps the harmony vocals during the refrain soar. "Your Gold Teeth II", the album's best track, is a perfect storm of Denny Dias's guitar, the precise drum work of 21 year old Jeff Porcaro (Toto), and a driving piano line that channels Vince Guaraldi. Of special note is its seeming lack of the snark-filled lyrical irony of many Dan tracks; it--with surprising honesty--seems to urge the listener towards a philosophy of carpe diem
--"If you're feelin' lucky/ You'd best not refuse / It's your game / The rules are your own, win or lose."
And what a way to
seize the day. Although Katy
does have dips in quality--"Daddy Don't Live in that New York City No More," "Any World (That I'm Welcome To)" being the two standout examples--it is an incredibly enjoyable and engaging listen from front to back, and excepting Aja
which is a bit of a base-breaker, the last Dan album that can indisputably boast of this quality.
: "Black Friday," "Bad Sneakers," "Everyone's Gone to the Movies," "Your Gold Teeth II," and "Doctor Wu" (if you're a fan of Aja
: 4/5 (An album that can be considered good through-and-through. At least 40-50% of tracks should be flawless, and listeners should not have to skip a track more than once, if at all.)