Review Summary: The likes of Steely Dan were always a novelty in the jaded rock-dominated 70s; no other group was doing this quite like they were; and predictably, Pretzel Logic has proved to be an enduring record, one of Fagen and Becker's favourites among their own wor
"Comfort to the soul, inspiration to the senses, sustenance from one moment to the next - these are the morsels we all crave" - Takashimaya Catalogue, Volume Six.
With this quote begin the liner notes for the remastered 1999 MCA release of Pretzel Logic, written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.
It's a good way to capture what's on the album, really; though it would have to be seen through the hedonistic, jaded, twisted yet geeky eyes of Fagen and Becker!
By 1974, a stable Fagen and Becker had emerged, from the nervous rookies of Can't Buy a Thrill(1972) and the exhausted roadies of Countdown to Ecstasy(1973). Guitarists Denny Dias and Jeff'Skunk' Baxter were still with them, as was drummer Jim Hodder. Inspired interpretations, however, do call for many players, especially those who might in their turn, be inspired by the material; and with Pretzel Logic we see Steely Dan emerging as the core duo of Fagen and Becker supported by a vast array of expert studio sessionmen; a portent for years to come.
Exacting and geekily meticulous in the studio, Fagen and Becker's material calls for sessionmen who could satisfy their craving for inspired, soulful, yet every-note-in-place musicianship. So we see the star cast of Pretzel Logic - drummers Jeff Porcaro and Jim Gordon(heard to best effect together on'Parker's Band'), multi-instrumentalist Victor Feldman(guitar on'Rikki, Don't Lose That Number'), bass guitarist Chuck Rainey('Any Major Dude'), Michael Omartian(piano on'Rikki'), Dean Parks(banjo on'East St. Louis Toodle-oo'), and many others.
Pretzel Logic turns out to be one of the most satisfying Steely Dan albums, because of its strong, inspired material as well as its expert musicianship. Various musical genres are integrated, with soulful taste as well as meticulous crafting. There's engaging embellishment to each song; but what I always loved about Steely Dan was that they were basically a duo of geeky, mischievous songwriters who really loved jazz(so much that they couldn't keep it off any of their songs!), yet kept their music essentially simple, light and as tasteful as possible for everyone.
And so, to the varied genres on Pretzel Logic all performed lovingly and stylishly - bossa nova on'Rikki', folky jangle on'Barrytown' and'With a Gun', jazz-inspired rhumba on'Parker's Band', jazz-for-our-time on'East St. Louis Toodle-oo' and blues-driven piano chords on'Pretzel Logic'. These songs are the showpieces of the album and deserve special consideration.'Rikki, Don't Lose That Number' is basically a well-written, folky bossa nova, with jungle drums to boot and very stylish piano groove with a perfect guitar solo.'Parker's Band' is a perfectly-crafted tribute to jazzman Charlie Parker, underpinned with a rhumba beat and its tale of "Savoy sides presents a new saxophone sensation".'East St. Louis Toodle-oo', composed by Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley, takes us right back to the Jazz era, with the perfect 50s telecaster jazz guitar(among other things).'With a Gun' is a superior folk-rock guitar piece, the kind that bands like America would love to emulate.'Pretzel Logic', the title track, is blues-pop, with a perfect piano riff which sets off a good workout for all concerned.
The other songs are above-average pop songs, especially'Charlie Freak', a typical Steely Dan parable with its cyclic chord structure;'Any Major Dude Will Tell You', cleverly written with the'cool' sentiment in mind, and'Night by Night' and'Monkey in Your Soul', both impeccably performed, enjoyable pop grooves. There's also a little diversion called'Through with Buzz', meticulous down to the last piano chord.
The likes of Steely Dan were always a novelty in the jaded rock-dominated 70s; no other group was doing this quite like they were; and predictably, Pretzel Logic has proved to be an enduring record, one of Fagen and Becker's favourites among their own work. Perfectly deserving. For the musician willing and eager to learn, the album provides a rich vein of interesting possibilities.for others, it might come through as a mite pretentious, but still fun. Either way, it holds a high place among the pop artefacts of the 70s, one to be remembered.