Steely Dan Two Against Nature

In terms of its production, Two Against Nature is a logical follow-up to Steely Dan's last two albums, AJA (1977) and Gaucho (1980), though it lacks the consistency of either of those classics. The highlights, "Gaslighting Abbey," "Janie Runaway" and "Almost Gothic" can be held up against the rest of their repertoire, but a couple of these tunes, sadly, would not have made the Gaucho cut. The main flaw of this release is the excessive force with which Becker and Fagen smash their enthusiasm and competence in the composition and arrangement of jazz over the listener's head (hear the title track, or the outro of "West of Hollywood"). This jazz ingredient is vital to their material, but it had previously been dunked in a thicker disco, R&B or rock coating. Arguably, their ability to weave that element into pop music so seamlessly has always been a central quality. It seems, however, that the boys kept up on their jazz, but lost touch with the rest of popular music altogether. A hint of new R&B, for example, might have served their formula nicely and made this album a great 2000 release instead of simply a decent follow-up to Gaucho that was left in the vault for 18 years. In fact, this album is quite similar to Donald Fagen's 1982 solo album, The Nightfly. Fagen's voice has not withered, though, and the cool, clean, and crisp production will be familiar and soothing to the ears of any true fan of the Dan. (Warner)