Pretzel Logic

Steely Dan

MCA, 1974

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


After two albums, was Steely Dan running out of gas?

Listening to Pretzel Logic, the third disc from the brainchild of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, that was the big question I found myself asking. Despite the inclusion of one of their biggest hits, this outing features tracks that sound like works in progress rather than the finely-polished gems that the collective was known for.

The one hit that you'll instantly recognize (after the brief lead-in of what sounds like a faint jungle rhythm) is "Rikki Don't Lose That Number." Okay, so it's overplayed on classic rock radio. I can't help it, I still love this song, no matter how many times I've heard it. In a sense, it's kind of hard to explain just what makes this track succeed. Is it the catchy refrain that goes from a samba-like beat to a full-blown chorus? Is it the gentleness of the verses that clashes with the more intense guitar solo? I'll let others argue those points.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In fact, a good portion of the first half of the disc, while not as powerful as either of Steely Dan's two previous efforts, still evokes enough hope for the listener to make them think that the whole album will turn the corner on the very next track. Songs like "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" and "Barrytown" hold out those glimmers of hope -- if only they delivered the goods afterward.

For the bulk of Pretzel Logic, though, Steely Dan turns into a band without a solid song behind them. Jumping from an almost ragtime band style ("East St. Louis Toodle-oo") to what sure sound like mere fragments of songs ("Through With Buzz," "Parker's Band," "Monkey In Your Soul"), it's almost like Becker and Fagen just put out these concepts in order to insure they had a disc in the stores each year. I've seen it argued that Becker and Fagen were railing against the outcry over the richer instrumentation on Countdown To Ecstasy; maybe this is so. But by lopping off the instrumental development of their songs, they essentially neuter the creature of Steely Dan that they created. Whatever the case, it's a bad mix.

Props do need to be given to the title track, even if it too does not count among the strongest efforts that Steely Dan recorded in their history. There is something about this track that feels like a backhand slap against -- well, everything, almost as if Becker and Fagen are tired of being told that everything they do is wrong. Their response in this track seems to be, "The hell with you all, we'll do it the way we want to." Fine and dandy, boys… just don't expect everyone to like the end result.

Daring to call Pretzel Logic anything but a masterpiece in this day and age almost invites the masses to pull out the tar and feathers against the blasphemer. Yet if one steps back and compares this disc to a lot of the material that Steely Dan recorded in their history, one can't help but see it as a disc with half-finished ideas almost begging for closure. Had they only been granted that wish.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2006 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA, and is used for informational purposes only.