Steely Dan
Two Against Nature


4.0
excellent

Review

by Brendan Schroer STAFF
October 8th, 2021 | 28 replies


Release Date: 2000 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Two Against Nature represents the end of Steely Dan's slow transformation into the jazz fusion group that they were always hinting at becoming.

Chapter VIII: A Well-Deserved Win

For a moment, cast your minds back to February 2001. The Grammy Awards were in full swing, and the roster of artists competing for Album of the Year were quite the diverse bunch. Radiohead, Beck, and Eminem… what do all of them have in common though? The fact that they all got their start in the 90s and were considered newer artists at the time. I get the sense that most people were placing their bets on either Radiohead or Eminem winning, but as we’ve seen in previous Grammy ceremonies - Jethro Tull winning for Best Heavy Metal Album in 1989, anyone? - things don’t always go as planned. So right on cue, as if rubbing it in the faces of all the Gen X’ers in the audience, Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature was announced as the Album of the Year and the duo were given their award by none other than Stevie Wonder.

In any case, it’s crazy how much a singular event can shape the public’s perception of an artist. After all, this is the same blessed industry in which Ashlee Simpson’s career got torn to ribbons just a few years later because of her Saturday Night Live performance, all for the crime of lip-syncing to the wrong song. The perception of Steely Dan has long been that of a “shitty dad rock band” by a lot of people, despite the level of sophistication in the duo’s songwriting or the sheer cynical cleverness found in their lyrics. Is it possible that this is just lingering contempt from the people who remember that Grammy ceremony? Maybe. But the point is clear: at least give the damn music a chance first and see if your preconceived notions can be changed. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find some unexpected gems.

Speaking of “unexpected”, though, Two Against Nature initially made for a pretty surprising listen. As much as I praise albums like Aja and The Royal Scam, none of the records from the duo’s initial run manage to reach the - for lack of a better word - JAZZINESS of this one. The chill atmosphere and lush arrangements of Gaucho have now been expanded even further, and a lot of the instrumental passages really do approach the realms of traditional jazz fusion. The 70s Dan albums always flirted with jazz classics, but their pop leanings always brought them back under the umbrella of “jazz rock” instead of all-out jazz fusion. In other words, if you’re looking for the most challenging and complex record Donald Fagen and Walter Becker ever released, this is the one. Just listen to the way the title track keeps shifting in and out of different time signatures with its latin beat, or how “Almost Gothic” can’t seem to pick a consistent key or chord progression to stay in.

But here’s the thing: the record goes about its business in such a subtle way that you’re not going to absorb it all in one listen. The music still goes under the same chill guise you’d get from a slick smooth jazz album, but it’s the little quirks that really set it apart. One of the best examples of this comes in the form of “Negative Girl”; the tune is so relaxing as it glides across your eardrums, but listen closer and you’ll find wonderfully complex bass lines from Tom Barney and equally off-kilter drum patterns. On the other side of the energy spectrum, you have the upbeat closing mini-epic “West of Hollywood” which starts out pretty conventionally before revealing its true colors halfway through; a roaring saxophone solo takes over, with Chris Potter tearing it up over ever-changing keyboard melodies. Consequently, stuff like this also makes Two Against Nature the least accessible Dan record, but it’s incredibly rewarding if you give it a chance. Plus, there are still some songs that are much more approachable, notably the relatively straightforward singles “Cousin Dupree” and “Janie Runaway”.

Of course, as with most albums by the duo, the polished music is often presented in contrast with the lyrics. “Cousin Dupree” was the most extensively discussed song to come from the album, as it deals with a slacker who’s just a little too interested in his cousin, and the lyrics even got a nod from Owen Wilson for being reminiscent of the movie You, Me and Dupree (though the song came out first). But let’s be real here; wild topics like infidelity and incest aren’t really out of place in a Steely Dan album. So if anything, I have to commend them for sticking to their guns after being away for so long. Other songs explore similarly dirty topics, such as the sexual escapades found in “Janie Runaway” or the meth-fueled character portrait of “Jack of Speed”. Just as with Gaucho, the music is so beautiful and slick that you almost get distracted from just how dark these songs can get. The juxtaposition is simply fantastic.

While I probably would have rooted for Kid A at the 2001 Grammy Awards, Two Against Nature wouldn’t have been far behind it. People may still complain and consider the win an “upset”, but this really is a fantastic album that progressed Steely Dan in a meaningful way stylistically. If anything, it actually represents the end of their slow transformation into the jazz fusion group that they were always hinting at becoming… it just so happens that people had to wait another 20 years to finally hear it. Give it a listen if you’ve been predisposed to avoid it; you might be surprised.



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user ratings (111)
3.4
great
other reviews of this album
undertakerpt (4)
A chocolate orange of an album....



Comments:Add a Comment 
Koris
Staff Reviewer
October 8th 2021


21283 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

I'm so damn torn between giving this a 4 and a 4.5. Really wish I had those staff ratings so I could give it a 4.3 or something



Also, I understand that I reiterated a number of points from the Aja review. But since this is the actual record that led to the Grammy ceremony, I felt it was important to bring some of those things back up

DePlazz
October 8th 2021


4520 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great stuff, underrated album.

Lasssie
October 8th 2021


1620 Comments


Preachin da Dan!
Never heard this actually
Nice review!

Koris
Staff Reviewer
October 8th 2021


21283 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Thank you! Crazy to think I just have one Steely Dan review left

Lasssie
October 8th 2021


1620 Comments


Keep it up man!

mindleviticus
October 8th 2021


10521 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Another NEE-GA-TIVE GIRL... AT THE EDGE OF THE FRAME. DEL-ICIOUS-LY TOXIC. THE ORIGINAL CLASSIC THIIIIIIIIINNNG

mindleviticus
October 8th 2021


10521 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Album's pretty amazing after a few mojitos by the beach ngl

Koris
Staff Reviewer
October 8th 2021


21283 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

“Album's pretty amazing after a few mojitos by the beach ngl”



That’s the aesthetic that makes it so good tbh



mindleviticus
October 8th 2021


10521 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

the production is so fucking mellow but leveled out so well you can hear every single instrument on any volume at any time

mindleviticus
October 8th 2021


10521 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

the production is so fucking mellow but levelled out so well you can hear every single instrument on any volume at any time

Koris
Staff Reviewer
October 9th 2021


21283 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Yeah, I totally forgot to bring up the production in the review. Probably the most immaculate in their entire discog, which is really saying something

sonictheplumber
October 9th 2021


17536 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

how bout a kiss from your cousin dupree

Koris
Staff Reviewer
October 9th 2021


21283 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Solid tune

twlight
October 9th 2021


8904 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

such a chill record. reminds me of summer evenings grilling and sippin a nice beer

Koris
Staff Reviewer
October 10th 2021


21283 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Absolutely. Love the atmosphere of this one

Koris
Staff Reviewer
February 2nd 2022


21283 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Been jamming this one again lately. Gets better and better with each listen

Mort.
February 18th 2022


25571 Comments


if theres any indication of the gulf between the grammys importance and a records staying power its this.
4 grammys and less than a 100 votes


but apparently it sold a shit ton

sonictheplumber
February 19th 2022


17536 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i mean tbf all their records have fewer ratings than a collection of mikael akerfeldt's farts would have on sputnik. rateyourmusic is probably a better gauge

Koris
Staff Reviewer
April 5th 2022


21283 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Goddamn, this album gets better with every listen. So good

twlight
June 3rd 2023


8904 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Smaps



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