Steely Dan, Pretzel Logic

Maybe there's some twisted logic to a pretzel after all. The street vendor on the cover, misspelled sign and all, solidly represents the slice of urban life and desperation that the surprisingly muted (for a change) Fagen & Becker capture in these eleven breathy, meaty cuts. They may have been recorded in Los Angeles, as culturally distant from the madding Northeast as Honolulu, but every word is East Coast and every cadence is Gotham and they form a nearly perfect musical snapshot of the mid 1970s. Fackerbegen are at their best when they're at their most relaxed ("Rikki Don't Lose That Number", "Any Major Dude Will Tell You"; as a result, "Through With Buzz" is wonderful and way, way too short) but even the verging-on-pop fluff is fun ("Barrytown," almost proto-Billy Joel) and there's even a superb Duke Ellington instrumental cover in the middle. They break down where they get folksy, though -- "With A Gun" feels like Al Stewart without the lyrical intensity -- and with the possible exception of "Charlie Freak" the last four tracks leave me cold and uninspired, even the title track. They're bizarre and static, devoid of the instantly understandable characterizations you could feel earlier on. They lack the twist and heartfelt verve that made the first half of the album great, that formed its unseen yet strongly felt internal ... logic. There it is. A twisted logic. Pretzel logic. If only they'd realized it the whole way through. The reissue, wisely, insists that the track list is just fine by itself and I've always respected Fabegencker for that. It's rare in this business. (Content: no issues.)