Love is growing in the street,
Right through the concrete

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Steely Dan - ROARING OF THE LAMB (1993)

As you can probably already tell from the hopelessly faux cover art, this is another unofficial Steely Dan song collection. There are many collections such as these, all featuring frustratingly incomplete selections from early demo recordings made by an early form of Steely Dan, and songs which even pre-date the name. I first came across a slighter selection of these curiosities on CD under the title The Root of Steely Dan, but they had long before been released to the public. They were distributed piecemeal, in vinyl form, under such names as Stone Piano and Sun Mountain. All featured a great deal of overlapping content - but all with Pokémon-style exclusive rarities which could not be found on others. This particular collection, Roaring of the Lamb, released on CD in 1993, has the most tracks of any I've come across, which I why I'm sharing it. It still lacks, however, a handful of early songs which can be found on Stone Piano amongst others (which I will share in time), but the most listenable and worthy, by far, can be found on this one.

What is interesting to hear is how much more adventurous and challenging these early compositions were in comparison to the sunny 'Classic Rock' sound of their début, Can't Buy a Thrill. In Brian Sweet's excellent biography, Reelin' In The Years, he describes the first album not as a humble beginning, but a conscious retreat into commercial rock which allowed the band a stronger career position for subsequent albums. It's fascinating to see how songs which appeared as late in their discography as 'The Caves Of Altamira' were actually penned before 1972 (albeit in an earlier form). As well as these familiar songs ('Parker's Band', 'Any World', 'Charlie Freak'), the majority of the tracklist is composed of demo tracks for songs destined never to resurface. As you might imagine, this miscellaneous and unofficial collection spans a broad spectrum of genre and quality; motown vocal harmony on 'A Horse In Town', acoustic riffs in 'Ida Lee' whimsical pop ditties like 'You Go Where I Go' and 'A Little With Sugar', Carole King-esque piano pop in 'Sun Mountain' and more. The best songs to be found on this collection defy easy categorisation, however - even easy comparison to their later, realised albums. Songs like 'Stone Piano', 'Android Warehouse' and 'Oh, Wow It's You' have the uneasy grace which is familiar from their darker LPs, but with a haunting atmosphere borne from the agoraphobic demo recordings.

These real gems are only few, making this an unwise choice for the Steely Dan newcomer, but those tracks which shine (till the end of the line) really feel perfect, despite their stripped arrangements. They sound as if performed in a remote, empty and dimly lit hanger, with no short-tempered record executives or common-denominator public to appease. @224


1. Android Warehouse
2. A Horse In Town
3. Parker's Band [demo]
4. More To Come
5. Ida Lee
6. Stone Piano
7. Any World [demo]
8. Take It Out On Me
9. This Seat's Been Taken
10. Barrytown [demo]
11. Oh, Wow It's You
12. Charlie Freak [demo]
13. A Little With Sugar
14. Roaring Of The Lamb
15. The Caves Of Altamira [demo]
16. You Go Where I Go
17. Sun Mountain

[reuploaded 29.03.11]

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Steely Dan - GAUCHO OUTTAKES (1980)

The word 'bootleg' implies a release only the most devoted should concern themselves with. This collection of unreleased recordings, however, contains not only a wealth of original songs never heard on official albums, but also some of the finest material in Steely Dan's oeuvre. It is a sad thought for the Dan fan to consider how much quality was canned as a result of the duo's insatiable fastidiousness.

This 'album' contains demo versions and outtakes from many of the cuts which eventually made it onto the final tracklist for 1980's superb yet divisive Gaucho. The demos for 'Time Out of Mind', 'Babylon Sisters', and 'Gaucho' all sound very close to their final conceptions; their piano sections seemingly identical to the finished article. They are unlike the more interesting early demos recorded prior to Can't Buy a Thrill, which show a liquidity in form and style. These relics seem to instead represent the near-suffocating control they had over their compositions by this point in their career. Like with all their demos, Fagen's voice shows considerable strain, yet through it shines his skill for characterisation in his vocal delivery. On 'Gaucho (Demo)', the song's themes of racial and fraternal tension are delivered with more menace and turmoil than on Gaucho's version. The line "What do you think I'm yelling for" has a passionate rawness which is lost in the following outtake version, yet the overall effect of Fagen's vocals is too jarring to make it a listenable alternative, unfortunately.

There is another album's worth of material on the bootleg, unheard on any official release. Many Dan fans may be aware of the ill-fated track 'Second Arrangment', even if they have never heard it. It was one of Becker and Fagen's favourite songs written for the sessions, but the tapes were accidentally erased, and the two didn't have the will to create their masterpiece again from scratch. It's surely apparent to anyone who has heard the surviving evidence of this track that it is one of the finest, downright soulful things Steely Dan ever wrote; graceful yet sharp piano hooks, poetic, yearning lyrics and a mood of bitter contemplation present on Katy Lied, Royal Scam and Aja, but never more cutting and uneasy than on this lost track. There are two versions of this track on the bootleg: a demo version, and a full-band 'outtake'. Not only is the former of much higher audio quality, but the simplicity of the demo arrangement, and the glassy timbre of the piano frames the atmosphere of the lyrics far better than the more rounded full studio version. Also, the fantastic line "I am a refugee, and I like things just the way they used to be" is disappointingly left out of the latter version.

Fagen often occupied the characters of twisted, regretful sleazeballs, and the other unreleased songs on the bootleg continue in similarly uneasy themes. 'Kulee Baba' features, past its wilfully obscure titular allusion, a TV executive, reminiscent of the movie 'Network' (1976), who presents a hollow, vicarious cultural experience to his viewers. 'I Can't Write Home About You' is narrated by a Holden Caulfield-like character, overwhelmed by the big city, and 'Kind Spirit' is a desperate, repeated refrain of some pathetic voice. 'The Bear', an absolutely sublime lost track which seems to allude all worldly interpretation - it may well be deliberate nonsense ("there's a bear that walks like a man - better shake him fast") - yet the heavy, stalking beat and threatening (McCarthy-esque?) lyrical delivery inspires no levity. It's an intense piece and, again, it's depressing to be only able to hear it in the unfinished form of a crackly bootleg. With songs of such quality, it begs the question of whether Becker and Fagen could recognise their own best work past their audiophillic perfectionism.

This is one bootleg which deserves to be as widely heard as the band's official releases. If you know anyone who might be interested in this rich, fascinating collection, I urge you to spread this link as far as you can. @200 var


1. Kind Spirit
2. Were You Blind That Day?
3. The Bear
4. Second Arrangement (demo)
5. Second Arrangement (outtake)
6. Talkin' About My Home
7. Time Out Of Mind (demo)
8. Babylon Sisters (demo)
9. Babylon Sisters (outtake)
10. I Can't Write Home About You
11. Kulee Baba (demo)
12. Kulee Baba (outtake)
13. Gaucho (demo)
14. Gaucho (outtake)

[reuploaded 29.03.11]