Steely Dan
Pretzel Logic


4.5
superb

Review

by Brendan Schroer STAFF
July 6th, 2021 | 54 replies


Release Date: 1974 | Tracklist

Review Summary: If Countdown to Ecstasy was Steely Dan's proof of concept, then Pretzel Logic is the full realization of what that record was aiming for.

Part III: The True Way Forward

Ever since Steely Dan’s inception, there’s always been one truism regarding their work: that there’s always gonna be the presence of jazz, whether it’s side dish or the main course. And what makes their discography so fun to revisit is that each record has its own distinct take on the jazz rock sound. Countdown to Ecstasy had a more dense and prog-inspired variation of it, The Royal Scam took it in a harder and funkier direction, and so on. Because of this, every album has its own feel and style; combined with the sardonic lyrics of low-lifes and shady city life, it’s almost as if you’re listening to Steely Dan’s own extended universe. But where does Pretzel Logic fit in? Well, true to the group’s unpredictable shape-shifting ways, they cut back on the longer pieces this time around for a more focused jazz-pop sound. And I think many will agree when I say it’s their best up to this point in their career.

The majority of Pretzel Logic is populated with sharp little audio vignettes that could last from two to four minutes; this is a perfect length for the songs to get in and get out while still making one hell of an impression on the listener. Of course, this is also the album that got Steely Dan back on the map commercially, mainly due to the strength of lead single “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”. The two-punch of the subtle latin drum beat and Jeff Baxter’s fantastic guitar work makes for a wonderfully breezy opener to lead things off, and it’s a great indicator of what you’re in for with the rest of the record. The jazz elements of Pretzel Logic are actually toned down a bit from Countdown to Ecstasy, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still present. In fact, one of the best tunes in their career “Parker’s Band” finds its way here; the song is a gloriously upbeat rock number filled to the brim with busy drums and wailing saxophones. In fact, while we’re on the topic of drumming, this track was the official studio debut of the legendary Jeff Porcaro on a Dan record; he would eventually become the primary drummer for the band’s next album Katy Lied. Other highlights in this vein include the fantastic rendition of the classic dixieland number “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo”, the bluesy swagger and jazz chorus of the title track, and the upbeat yet lyrically dark journey through “Barrytown”.

But let’s briefly zoom out and look at the biggest change Pretzel Logic exhibits from its predecessors: the lineup. This was the last time we’d get to hear Steely Dan as a full band, as they’d be reduced to the central two-piece of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen starting with Katy Lied. But you can already tell the change is starting to take place; for instance, Jim Hodder - who had been the full-time drummer up to this point - got replaced by two session drummers and was relegated to being a backup singer. Over 15 session musicians were involved in the making of this record, many of whom would become regular staples in the band’s future records. But I think what really makes Pretzel Logic stand out so much is the sheer number of horn players in its roster. They really make a profound impact on this record, adding an incredible amount of character and charm to several tunes; this is especially evident on “Night by Night” and “Parker’s Band”, which have incredible arrangements to match the detailed production work. “Night by Night” may be one of the best songs on offer here, a stunning combination of biting hard rock and complex jazz chord changes that’s as intense as it is fun. The only thing holding back the record from being a perfect experience is that the last few songs are a tad less interesting than the previous stunners. After the highly enjoyable title track, the tunes that follow just feel a bit boring and filler-y, as if Becker and Fagen had finally expended their inspiration right before completing the album.

Luckily, the rest of the record anchors these songs just fine. If Countdown to Ecstasy was Steely Dan's proof of concept, then Pretzel Logic is the full realization of what that album was going for. It’s a big leap forward in regards to marrying jazz complexity with pop accessibility; while it’s arguably the most easy-going record from the band’s early years, it’s just so damn catchy that these songs will be in your head all week once you’ve heard them. Plus, at only 34 minutes, it’s a damn breeze to get through. If you’re a newcomer to Steely Dan, this is the first album I’d point you to.



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4.1
excellent
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Koris
Staff Reviewer
July 6th 2021


21109 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

Yeah, I couldn't help it. I had to do another review after just a few days because I'm so addicted to this band, lol



Anyway, I'll wait a bit longer to do The Royal Scam. The Katy Lied review has already been up for a while anyway, so check out that one if you're going chronologically here

ghostalgeist
July 6th 2021


751 Comments


strong review like always div

sonictheplumber
July 6th 2021


17533 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

:D

sonictheplumber
July 6th 2021


17533 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

its sad people dont even review enough to knock week old reviews off the front page

Koris
Staff Reviewer
July 6th 2021


21109 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

Thanks Ghost!



@Sonic: :D [2]



And yeah, I was kinda worried about knocking old reviews off with this one. But then I remembered that I reviewed Countdown at the beginning of the weekend, so people had plenty of time to write more reviews, lol. I think as long as the "one review a day" rule is in effect, then anything is fair game

ghostalgeist
July 6th 2021


751 Comments


yeah i think you're fine mate

KennyB
July 6th 2021


20 Comments


Good review. Pretzel Logic was the first Steely album I heard and I was getting stoned in my friends basement at 17. It's still my favorite --- Time has changed my favorite tracks too "Any Major Dude" and "Barry Town". Those golden pop songs get me singing every time, there's a tinge of mellow reflection in both.

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
July 6th 2021


18854 Comments


never knew that they leaned so pop with this album, should be an interesting listen! great review

DavidYowi
July 6th 2021


3512 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I’d say this is my least favorite Dan, it’s just not as consistent as their other records. But it’s still pretty good, and it’s got a nice vibe, like walking through a city. Your review inspired me to give this another shot, this Steely Dan retrospective has been so much fun to follow. Do you plan on reviewing the two post-reunion albums or Donald Fagen’s solo record at all?

DocSportello
July 6th 2021


3367 Comments


This one always struck me a little funnily. To me, it lacks as firm of an identity as their other albums, but it's still great of course. Great review, long live the Dan, desert island band forever

Ryus
July 6th 2021


36579 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

this and the debut are def my two least favorite of the first seven



1. aja

2. the royal scam

3. gaucho

4. countdown

5. katy lied

6. this

7. can't buy a thrill

DavidYowi
July 6th 2021


3512 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

1. Gaucho

2. Katy Lied

3. Aja

4. The Royal Scam

5. Can’t Buy a Thrill

6. Countdown to Ecstasy

7. Pretzel Logic



Aja and Royal Scam are tied

Ryus
July 6th 2021


36579 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

based gaucho placement. jazzy/sophistipop dan >

DocSportello
July 6th 2021


3367 Comments


1. Katy Lied
2. Aja
3. The Royal Scam
[The Nightfly]
4. Countdown to Ecstasy
5. Gaucho
6. Pretzel Logic
7. Can't Buy a Thrill

Ryus
July 6th 2021


36579 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

the nightfly is great, yeah.

wham49
July 6th 2021


6341 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

any major dude is so awesome

Koris
Staff Reviewer
July 6th 2021


21109 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

Thanks everyone!



"Do you plan on reviewing the two post-reunion albums or Donald Fagen’s solo record at all?"



Yes! Or at the very least, I'm definitely doing the reunion albums. But as a bonus, I might just add Becker and Fagen's solo albums as well to be completely thorough with the discog review

Atari
Staff Reviewer
July 6th 2021


27945 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

pos. Night by Night is so great

Koris
Staff Reviewer
July 7th 2021


21109 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

Definitely one of the best songs on here for sure :]

Gyromania
July 7th 2021


37015 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The royal scam is automatically #1 for Haitian Divorce alone



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