Don Breithaupt’s excellent study of Steely Dan’s Aja album is reviewed in the Sept/Oct issue of Canadian jazz-mag CODA – in a joint review, by Andrew Scott, with Tom Perchard’s biography of Lee Morgan.
Here’s the part of the review that best serves our purposes:
As Toronto-based keyboardist/vocalist/bandleader and author Don Breithaupt rightly points out in his excellent new book on Steely Dan’s seminal recording Aja, “rock critics…first look for answers on a lyric sheet.” Thankfully Breithaupt does not get caught in the snare he describes. True, he discusses Steely Dan’s multi-dimensional and often “too hip for the room” lyrics; yes, he points to the so-called “cocaine sizzle” that was 1970s music making in Los Angeles, California – so deliciously lampooned by the creators of Yacht Rock – but equal attention is given here to the band’s music. Breithaupt has the requisite Lester Bangs / Chuck Klosterman-style humour (“the great band member purge of ’75”) and journalistic muscle to dismiss musical comparisons based upon geography as “reductionist malarkey.” But unlike these better-known music commentators, Breithaupt can both speculate and marshal a convincing argument on how Steely Dan’s harmonic manipulation from G6-F6 to G13-F13 in “Deacon Blues” makes the passage “33% bluer,” thus linking together music and meaning – not an easy task. The fact that Breithaupt has ears – and not just for cultural studies – makes Aja as good a piece of popular music writing as any.