Friday, July 15, 2011

Two Against Nature by Steely Dan

As usual for me, I arrived at my appreciation of Steely Dan somewhat belatedly. Therefore, it pretty much meant nothing to me in 2001 when they won multiple Grammys for the album Two Against Nature. A decade later, I find it fascinating and cool.

I do remember there being considerable huffing and puffing at the time because the album won Album of the Year against releases by Paul Simon, Beck, Radiohead, and (most famously) Eminem. Wasn't there talk that they gave that award to Steely Dan as a "safe" choice? To which I can only wonder: when exactly did Steely Dan become the safe, predictable choice? BUZZ! The answer is, in fact, "Never."

C'mon, if the Grammys wanted to play it safe, they would have just mailed that award to Paul Simon. I tend to think there was a lot of mixed feelings as far as those nominees, and that likely split the votes up pretty well. Steely Dan won because they were established, they had never won before despite making excellent music, and *gasp* they actually put out a good album.

(As an aside, if we're picking which of those should have won as far being important in the long term, it was Radiohead's Kid A. And I'm not even a big Radiohead fan. But hey, the Cars and Elvis Costello lost out for Best New Artist to A Taste of Honey in 1979, so hindsight is a funny thing.)

Getting back to Two Against Nature as a piece of music, it's quite remarkable in that it maintains wonderful continuity to Dan's prior studio album from two decades earlier. I wouldn't call it flawless, but it definitely holds up well compared to 1970s favorites like Pretzel Logic and Aja. The most memorable track for this listener was "Cousin Dupree", later the source of some good-natured controversy due to a movie I never saw.

Two Against Nature is an energetic and enjoyable return to classic form if you like Steely Dan. And if you don't? Yeah, this probably won't change your mind.

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