WALTER BECKER: Eleven Tracks Of Whack by Joe Jackson
“OK, this isn’t that obscure – in this context, I almost feel like I’ve gone all Top Twenty. But it is underrated. I can’t believe how many people I’ve met who profess to be Steely Dan nuts like myself, but don’t know that Walter Becker has made two solo albums. Becker’s solo efforts seem to be overshadowed by Donald Fagen’s, but in my opinion this 1994 album (my God, has it really been that long?) is not only better than Becker’s second but better than any of Fagen’s, and better than a lot of Steely Dan’s post-‘comeback’ work.
I still play this album often, but part of its appeal when it was released was that it was just so damn unexpected. No one ever thought Becker could deliver a whole album’s worth of lead vocals, for one thing, but he does a pretty good job. His voice is difficult to assess: it has a laconic, amateurish, not-really-trying quality which is less intense and distinctive than Fagen’s, but somehow a bit easier to live with. The album is full of great songs, too: Down In The Bottom, Junkie Girl, Book Of Liars, Girlfriend, Lucky Henry, the magnificently-titled This Moody Bastard. Of course it sounds very much like Steely Dan, which might, I suppose, only be mildly surprising to someone who always assumed Fagen to be the ‘main man’. Though I should probably mention that he is credited here as co-producer.
Anyway, the other refreshing surprise for me, when I first heard this album, was its slightly rough-edged, homemade sound. Whereas later Steely Dan is sometimes criticized for being too ‘slick’, this sometimes sounds almost like a demo tape. It’s more rhythmically varied and interesting than a lot of Late Dan, too.
Don’t get me wrong, these guys are heroes of mine. I’m delighted they’re still around, and there were moments in the New York show I saw a couple of years ago that sent shivers down my spine. I can’t believe I have the nerve to be even hesitantly and ever-so-politely critical, but I do think their sound of late has become a bit set-in-stone. Maybe they should go back and give this album another listen. And maybe Pretzel Logic, too.”