Time Out of Mind
Third World Man
With Gaucho Steely Dan ended an astounding eight-album run of expertly crafted and idiosyncratic pop-rock. Like old masters, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker had refined every aspect of their art — from color palette to shading — and now they could create images with maximum focus and minimum clutter. The opening songs, “Babylon Sisters” and “Hey Nineteen,” are paragons of understatement. The underlying theme of Gaucho is luxury, in all its putrid manifestations. “Glamour Profession” summarizes the Hollywood life cycle in just a few short sentences: “The L.A. concession / Local boys will spend a quarter / Just to shine the silver bowl / Living hard will take its toll.” The grooves are tightly compacted and edgeless, and the imagery is as meticulous as the music. There are recurring depictions of fine food and alcohol, and the sensory snapshots are as sharp as daggers. We encounter a “spangled leather poncho” (“Gaucho”), “the smell of prickly pear” (“My Rival”), “a bunker filled with sand” (“Third World Man”). Gaucho is an exacting dénouement for one of the ‘70s most exacting and inventive musical enterprises.