Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Nightfly (1982)

At the time I had about given up on Steely Dan. Aja and especially Gaucho had sounded to me just calcified with technique, sterile more than anything else. Donald Fagen had evidently long since lost all sense of humor. Even the quality of his singing seemed thin, nasal, and self-pitying. I quickly tossed this right into the same bag. But years later I pulled it out again for whatever reason and started to pick up on the gushy and comically mannered nostalgia that it evinces behind everything, and for a memorable time grew infatuated with it. The cover about tells the whole story: the alluring pleasures of hiding out in a world dominated by cool jazz, New Wave French cinema, the overweening glamour of the Kennedy administration, late night radio, Chesterfield Kings, and the ennui which surpasseth all understanding. Sure, it's still troubled by the late Dan predilection for what I termed then "tasty-ness": every arrangement, every texture, every production touch, every chord change, every note of every solo considered and worked over until any sign of life or impulse, let alone vitality, is compressed practically right out of it. But you know what? That kind of works, on a metaphorical level say, when nostalgia is the theme. And that's the theme here, from the slick cover of Dion's "Ruby Baby" to the overt nods to Camelot throughout to the gauzy honorific to the late-night jazz DJ on the title track. This is all about "good old days," abstracted, not specifically any particular good old days, in spite of all the early-'60s signifiers (very little in the early '60s sounded much like anything here, for one thing), but all of them. It's about loss, and knowing it, and the yearning to recover days past, and knowing can't be done, but wanting it anyway. And, perhaps appropriately, it only gets better with time, as now it bears the feelings of randomly distributed memories spanning nearly 30 years, all of them good, even when they aren't so good. It just gets to be a pleasure having this along.

No comments:

Post a Comment