Steely Dan
Can't Buy a Thrill


4.0
excellent

Review

by Brendan Schroer STAFF
June 1st, 2021 | 77 replies


Release Date: 1972 | Tracklist

Review Summary: It might be uneven in spots, but Can't Buy a Thrill is an incredibly strong launching pad for one of the most unique rock bands of the 70s.

Part I: Laying the Groundwork

It’s a bit strange to imagine a period in Steely Dan’s career in which they were actually a full-fledged band, but that era does indeed exist. Prior to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s transition to full-time studio experimentation, their first three records had a solid lineup of musicians to record and tour with. But even in this early phase, their perfectionist tendencies led to members leaving left and right; some of them, such as singer David Palmer, only had one stint with the duo because of clashing personalities and simply not fitting in stylistically. Hey, even back then Becker and Fagen knew what they wanted out of their musicians! In hindsight, it’s no wonder they eventually stuck with only session players. But if you want to hear an aural snapshot of the time Steely Dan were the closest to being an actual band, Can’t Buy a Thrill will provide just that.

As debut albums go, this one is surprisingly accomplished. Although it tends to be much poppier and softer than future records, the jazz influences and cynical lyricism still surface pretty prominently. If you’re a casual Steely Dan listener, you probably at least know “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ in the Years”; they still get tons of airplay to this day, and it’s not without reason. The former’s latin flavor and sitar-esque guitar work result in instant memorability, while the latter matches rich vocal harmonies with a sunshine pop atmosphere to great effect. Not to mention, you’ve got Elliott Randall’s amazing lead guitar work in that tune, which frequently graces several “best guitar solo” lists even today. But what makes Can’t Buy a Thrill so interesting is the experimentation found in several of the deep cuts. This may actually be the most diverse Steely Dan album, despite still maintaining the level of focus that usually goes into their songwriting. Elements of pop, soft rock, folk, and even country creep into their usual jazz rock sound; this level of variety really makes the album’s runtime fly by, as it ensures the tracklist doesn’t get homogeneous.

Let’s get into those deeper cuts, shall we? I’ll break it down by genre. To represent the pop and soft rock elements, we’ve got “Dirty Work”, “Only a Fool Would Say That”, “Midnite Cruiser”, and “Change of the Guard”. Can’t Buy a Thrill is probably Steely Dan’s most easygoing record, and it’s mostly due to these cuts; with that said, there’s still some really solid songwriting here. “Dirty Work” and “Midnite Cruiser” are two of the only songs that aren’t sung by Fagen - they’re sung by Palmer and drummer Jim Hodder respectively - and it’s interesting to hear how their voices blend with Becker and Fagen’s musical/lyrical aesthetic. The former is particularly noteworthy as Palmer’s soft, warm voice contrasts wonderfully with the song’s harsh lyrics about having an affair; you can tell the band’s penchant for being subversive and witty was already being established here. Meanwhile, the folk rock side has the smooth slide guitar of the country-influenced “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)” and the wonderful three-part vocal harmonies of closer “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again”. Both go a long way in making the record a more multifaceted experience, though perhaps “Brooklyn” sounds a bit cheesy and dated by today’s standards.

Finally, the jazz rock sound would be represented by the likes of “Do It Again”, “Kings”, “Reelin’ in the Years”, and “Fire in the Hole”. Now that might seem like a small number of jazz-based tunes compared to what’s found on later efforts, and that’s because it is. And while “Kings” and “Fire in the Hole” are fantastic efforts that demonstrate Fagen’s underrated piano skills, one wishes that more of these types of songs were on the record. The album’s diversity is to be admired, but the whole thing still feels quite embryonic compared to the sound and aesthetic the main songwriting duo would perfect in the future. Still, Can’t Buy a Thrill is a strikingly solid launching pad for what would become one of the most unique and fascinating bands to grace the 70s. Interestingly enough, Becker and Fagen both called the record a rush job despite putting in several months of writing and recording before its release. I suppose it’s a testament to how dedicated they were to crafting just the right sound and style, something that would become more evident with every passing album. But if Can’t Buy a Thrill is considered a “rush job”, then I wish more rush jobs were this good.



Recent reviews by this author
Beyonce Cowboy CarterFLETCHER In Search Of The Antidote
Judas Priest Invincible ShieldNorah Jones Visions
Laura Jane Grace Hole In My HeadBrittany Howard What Now
user ratings (450)
4.1
excellent
other reviews of this album
thesheltercrew (4)
Steely Dan have arguably released better, more diverse stuff since, but to see they started so well,...

nickswandotcom (4.5)
The first of many wonderful albums by a wonderfully unique band....



Comments:Add a Comment 
Koris
Staff Reviewer
June 1st 2021


21105 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I said I'd do a Steely Dan discog review, and I'm committing to it :]

DePlazz
June 1st 2021


4482 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Cool. Album's a milestone.

DePlazz
June 1st 2021


4482 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I should give their discog another run but as for now, Aja is their next peak after this.

WatchItExplode
June 1st 2021


10448 Comments


Summer of Steely?

BMDrummer
June 1st 2021


15096 Comments


the kings

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
June 1st 2021


18852 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great band to do a discog review of, Aja is the only one I've heard so I'm gonna dive in

Koris
Staff Reviewer
June 1st 2021


21105 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Cheers everyone



@DePlazz: I definitely agree about Aja being the peak. Safe to say I'm gonna be gushing like crazy about that one when I get to it, lol



@YoYo: As I said in the Katy Lied review, this band is one of my most rewarding musical discoveries in a long time... probably the most rewarding since my Manic Street Preachers discog dive back in 2018. I'm assuming you enjoyed Aja?

SitarHero
June 2nd 2021


14697 Comments


I think this is my favourite Dan, but sometimes I wonder if Fagen's voice does his own songs justice. 12 years ago, I watched a tribute band perform Do It Again with a sultry female vocalist and her version haunts me to this day.

Ryus
June 2nd 2021


36551 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

this is easily the worst out of their first 7 tbh

Koris
Staff Reviewer
June 2nd 2021


21105 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Gaucho's probably my least favorite of the first 7, mostly because it strikes me as a vastly inferior version of the style Aja perfected. Still a good album though

DavidYowi
June 2nd 2021


3512 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Wonderful review. This album is just banger after banger. Very excited to read your thoughts on the other Steely Dan records. I’m front row for the Steely Dan Summer

sonictheplumber
June 2nd 2021


17533 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

this definitely beats gaucho

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 2nd 2021


27375 Comments


I don't like Gaucho very much at all, but I really like this album.

Ryus
June 2nd 2021


36551 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

dam i cant get behind this gaucho hate

sonictheplumber
June 2nd 2021


17533 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

gaucho's great it just sounds tired and a bit too pristine

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 2nd 2021


27375 Comments


I feel like it’s where the songwriting jumps the shark a bit. Doesn’t feel satisfying. Too twisty

DavidYowi
June 2nd 2021


3512 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Gaucho is their best work

Koris
Staff Reviewer
June 2nd 2021


21105 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"gaucho's great it just sounds tired and a bit too pristine"



Yeah, that's pretty much my take on it too, especially the pristine part. Aja sounds pristine too, but the production and songwriting still make for an album that's warm and inviting. Gaucho just sounds a bit too cold. Again though, it's still a great album; I don't think there's a single bad Steely Dan album anyway

Ryus
June 2nd 2021


36551 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

aja>royal scam>gaucho is my top 3

Koris
Staff Reviewer
June 2nd 2021


21105 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'd give my ranking away, but then there would be no mystery for the rest of the discog review :]



Though I guess my ratings give some of it away, lol



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2023 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy