Barnes & Noble

For decades, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker have built an image as tortured perfectionists, wiseass cynics and purveyors of some of the smartest songs to have ever lodged themselves in the classic rock playlist. Well, on this disc -- "only" two and a half years in the making -- they go a long way toward divesting themselves of the first two portions of that troika, delivering a batch of songs that crackle with a live spark not heard since the dawn of the Dan, not to mention a heretofore unaired streak of sincere humanity.

Several songs on Everything Must Go -- particularly the wistful title track and the lonely ramble "Things I Miss the Most" -- take on topics like mortality and loss, offering more palpable reactions than the shrug of their past loner anthems. Similarly, "Slang of Ages," one of the disc's gnarlier numbers, finds Becker -- taking lead vocal chores in the studio for the first time -- reflecting on his past descent into drug addiction without romanticizing, or actively proselytizing against, the whole shebang.

Even more surprising is the disc's sonic tenor, which builds on the comparatively bouncy grooves laid down on 2000's Two Against Nature: "Godwhacker" brings the funk with a sweaty fervor, while "Pixeleen" dapples the band's traditionally sleek surface with a mottling of cyberpunk nastiness. Although its title may conjure a sonic garage sale, Everything Must Go is actually brimming with some of the freshest sounds Steely Dan has ever crafted.

- David Sprague

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