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Steely Dan: 'Everything Must Go'

Everything Must Go, Steely Dan's latest album.
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Everything Must Go, Steely Dan's latest album.

As Steely Dan prepares to go on tour, guitars and other equipment await rehearsals in a New York City studio.
Van Williamson, NPR News /
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As Steely Dan prepares to go on tour, guitars and other equipment await rehearsals in a New York City studio.

If Steely Dan's new album sounds familiar, it's because it features the distinctive style — the smooth but funky jazz — that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen have brought to their music for more than 30 years.

"It's only when you listen closely that you start to hear the subtle variations within that style," NPR's Steve Inskeep says in a two-part report on the band on Morning Edition. "An unfamiliar rhythm, or a bright new melody... plays off against the words of bitter, nasty, beaten, characters in an album called Everything Must Go."

They write about older characters on their new release — people shutting down businesses, closing down marriages. But they're still drawing on the same mixture of pop tunes and jazz recordings they admired while growing up in the 1950s and '60s.

"I think we formed our values when we were pretty young that probably haven't changed that much," Fagen says. "Music we listened to, what we read... and the contrast between art and what we lived through at the time, that sort of formed the basis of where we're coming from."

Becker adds: "I think there's even more... the march of post-modernity has been reflected in our work. We are even more self-referential than we were."

And every bit as funny. Fagen doesn't let his musical partner get too far with his last remark: "When is the post-modernity march?"

Becker doesn't miss a beat: "It's going to be in about 10 minutes, actually. We're on the irony float this year."

The CD's title song, "Everything Must Go," was inspired by the Enron debacle. It begins:

It's high time for a walk on the real side / Let's admit the bastards beat us / I move to dissolve the corporation / In a pool of margaritas...

Fagen says, "We'd wanted to write a song about business for a long time."

Becker adds, "Don't you remember we wanted to write a song called 'Greenmailing Bastard?' Unfortunately it wasn't a hit."

Some artists sound great in their golden years, but others clearly have overstayed their welcome. "Well that may be us, too. I don't know," Fagen says.

"People were already thinking that about us in the '70s..." adds Becker.

But Fagen says Steely Dan's staying power is proof enough of the band's relevance: "We were the enemy of punk bands all over... where are they now?"

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.