Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Old Steely Dan fans fall into two categories--devotees of such acerbic early-'70s hits as Do It Again and Reeling in the Years and those who caught on in 1977, when the gorgeously engineered Aja LP became a staple of AOR radio. Two Against Nature (Giant), Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's first studio album in 20 years, is a surprisingly effective effort to satisfy both camps--and both halves of the duo's cynical but perfectionist sensibility. With an energy and commitment unheard of in rock reunions (cf. CSNY), the old partners hire a new set of studio sharpsters and pick up their jazzy rock where it left off. If anything, the grooves are deeper, the harmonies weirder, the arrangements trickier than Aja's. But where Aja was lyrically nonconfrontational, here Fagen's mordant mindset adds bite to music that might seem merely slick otherwise. Main theme, as befits a guy in his fifties: sex as power, with guy in trouble whether victim or victor.

On Like Blood for Chocolate (MCA), Common, formerly billed as Common Sense, comes up with some music that's as smart as he is. Always uncommon in his no-bull respect for women and feet-on-the-ground tales from the 'hood, here the Chicago rapper uses jazz materials to construct beats that, like everything he does, feel more fundamental than underground hip hop generally manages. Star track: the nasty duet A Film Called (Pimp), with MC Lyte matching him line for line.

Featuring ex-members of the dB's (Peter Holsapple), the Bangles (Vicki Peterson), and the Dream Syndicate (Mark Walton), New Orleans's Continental Drifters are loaded with songwriters. But on Vermilion (Razor & Tie), the Drifter who puts the songs across, and writes good ones herself, is an ex-Cowsill: lead singer Susan Cowsill, to be precise.

Playboy, Feb. 2000

Jan. 2000 Mar. 2000