Wednesday, June 11, 2003; Page C05
©2003 TheWashingtonPostCompany

Steely Dan has glimpsed the apocalypse just ahead, and of course that puts the guys in a merry mood. "I move to dissolve the corporation / In a pool of margaritas," suggests Donald Fagen on the title track of this new CD. On "Blues Beach," a cheery-sounding boogaloo fit for a frat party, he declares: "Things may get a whole lot worse / Before suddenly falling apart."

Keyboardist-singer Fagen and his copilot, guitarist Walter Becker, are cruising comfily through their fourth decade of Dandom. They're the Coen brothers of rock -- wisenheimer wonder boys who win us over with their complete mastery of craft, even as they keep us at arm's length. This album improves on its immediate predecessor, "Two Against Nature" (2000): It's leaner, lighter on its feet. Lively tempos predominate, the arrangements are soaked in funk, and pleasant harmonic surprises underlie the melodies. As always, the lyrics are packed with vaguely sinister details, but much of the story is tantalizingly withheld. We hear mentions of Gina and Trina and Yvonne, of Abu and Slinky Redfoot and Dave from Acquisitions, but we never quite meet them. Maybe we're better off that way.

"Everything Must Go" displays those smarty-pants Fagen and Becker at the top of their snarky game. Their work may not appeal to the heart, but the brain and the feet love it. Improbably, the Dan abides.

- Peter Kaufman

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