Walter Becker John Mendelsohn - Essay

John Mendelsohn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Steely Dan sound like a million dollars not only next to at least 26 of their coresidents of the Boss 30 when they're in it, but also in comparison to three-quarters of the stuff with which they share FM needletime….

The words, while frequently not easy to get the definite drift of, are almost always intriguing and often witty….

Why, then, do I—without the slightest intention of undermining anyone else's enthusiasm for it—find myself not caring if I ever again hear any of Steely Dan's music up to and including Katy Lied?

It has to do primarily with the fact that, however immaculately tasteful and intelligent it all may be, I personally am able to detect not the slightest suggestion of real passion in any of it….

When it comes to the words …, I feel all too frequently as though I must choose between concluding that I'm a thickhead and suspecting that the Dan lyricist either is too lazy to make his stuff penetrable or else is oblique simply to conceal the fact that, however facilely he may string together unusual and interesting images, he really hasn't much to say through them…. I can make only the wildest guess as to what Messrs. Becker and/or Fagen wanted to tell me about their perception of the world….

Steely Dan's music continues to strike me essentially as exemplarily well-crafted and uncommonly intelligent schlock.

John Mendelsohn, in his review of "Katy Lied," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1975; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 186, May 8, 1975, p. 66.