Out There

Stiff Upper Lip

Steely Dan

Two Against Nature
(Giant Records)

Angus, Brian, Donald, and Walter could have gone out and screwed up the formula, which, at their age, would have thrown out their backs. As it stands, expect to hear Stiff Upper Lip's title track in one of your finer titty bars day after tomorrow; something about Brian Johnson shrieking, "I was born with a stiff...a stiff upper lip" is bound to get the two-buck crowd going. Maybe someone will even notice it's a "new" song, though "new" and "AC/DC" should be used warily when they collide in the same sentence, since there hasn't been anything remotely "new" about AC/DC since Bon Scott got dropped by drink and Brian J. took over, bringing with him two things Bon didn't have -- one more octave and a pulse. The song titles might fool you -- "House of Jazz" is a far more subtle come-on-come-on than "Let's Get it Up" -- but the sound wouldn't fool the deaf. Angus knows three riffs, Brian knows three words, and they still need Malcolm just to keep from falling ass-first into the Foster's. And to think: When Rick Rubin was producing them in 1995, that was the point -- to get back in black without sinking the pink into a freshly dug grave. I know I've sold this record back six times in the last 10 years.

At least Steely Dan has an excuse: Live rip-off from 1995 aside, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker have been absent from the bins since Gaucho, an album so slick, the needle slipped off its surface whenever someone tried to cue it up. These gentlemen still think "modern jazz" is a Thelonious Monk best-of; to expect to update a sound trapped behind glass is to expect the impossible and the unlikely. Then, would you prefer they update, tear down the old home and go "techno" all of the sudden? God, no, which is why Two Against Nature -- and a more apposite album title you will never find, since Becker and Fagen stave off that which we humans succumb to with each tick of the second hand -- is a nice, if not particularly enjoyable, piece of work.

Fagen still sounds like a huckster peddling watches on a New York street corner, Becker could polish the rough edges off Mt. Everest, and damned if half the thing doesn't sound like a MIDI file (especially "Cousin Dupree," in which Fagen lusts after his own kin). But such are the pleasures of nostalgia: Cue up "Almost Gothic" or the rather mordant "What a Shame About Me" (in which Fagen laments that he's "worried about the future," which is news to us) and pretend Nirvana and the Backstreet Boys never existed. Now, is that so bad?

-- Robert Wilonsky


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