Friday, October 11, 2013

Sisters: Babylon Sisters

Steely Dan: Babylon Sisters


Babylon Sisters comes from the album Gaucho, which would be the last album from the original run of Steely Dan. After Gaucho, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen would split up. Fagen initially pursued a solo career, while Becker moved to Hawaii and kicked his drug habit, before eventually reemerging as a producer and solo artist himself. When Steely Dan finally went back in the studio as a group, they were without longtime producer Gary Katz.

Gaucho was the album from that original run that Becker and Fagen found the most difficult to make. In fact, there exists as a bootleg an entire album worth of material that would have been a very different album than the one we know. That one is called, alternately, The Lost Gaucho or The Second Arrangement. It has an alternate version of Third World Man with entirely different lyrics, an instrumental version of Gaucho, and a bunch of songs that were scrapped. To my ear, the “official” album, Gaucho, was well worth the effort it took to make. Compared to the previous album, Aja, the sound is somewhat simplified. The band is a large as before, and the background singers are still here, but the songs on Gaucho are shorter, and have less complex structures and harmonies. Aja is a great album too, but there are times when this Steely Dan lite, if you will, is just what I am in the mood for. The songs here have lyrics that are as opaque as always, but the musical directness gives these songs the unique feel of well crafted short stories, where Aja is more like a collection of finely wrought novellas. Babylon Sisters is a fine example of what I mean. Compared to the epic sweep of Home at Last, or even the storytelling of Don’t Take Me Alive, from the Royal Scam album, Babylon Sisters is a moment in time and a mood piece, and a very fine one.

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