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By Samantha Wimsatt
February, 2000

Steely Dan: Two Against Nature

On December 31 - Millennium eve - sweet serendipity presented me with a package from Warner International containing an advance copy of Two Against Nature , Steely Dan's first album of new songs in twenty years. Stifling a natural urge to play the thing posthaste, I was able to make do with a languorous dub anthology until all my guests had arrived. True to the theme we had agreed upon for this historic night ("The World of Henry Orient") the girls exploded into my flat in a burst of baby powder and Intrigue, peeling off their faux furs to reveal fresh silk jammies a la chinois beneath. In minutes my unspeakably gorgeous roommate Julie, the sleek Ang twins (Gina and Suzette) and pale, slouching Solange were stretched out on the piled Harriz rugs by the fire, sipping port and talking and giggling.

With the slow dub pumping, we prepared for the main event by lighting a few sticks of lovely Sri Lankan incense and doing an ounce of Solange's Moroccan black hash. With the wine and the cannabis buzzing in our heads, we slipped in the disk and hit "play".

On hearing the first mysterious, energizing bars of track one, Gaslighting Abbie, the twins, who were only 14 when they saw the Dan at Wembley in '96, seemed to melt into rug with pleasure. The somewhat coarse tone of the narrative only seemed to arouse them further, especially the channel with its ominous references to "gear" and "fireworks". As the tune progressed through Chris Potter's feathery out-choruses, we were unanimously struck with the cinematic, indeed, Hitchcockian eroticism of this most singular composition.

Speaking of channels, we all loved the release of Shame which describes a sticky Village affair in two perfect lines.:

         I'm thinking of a major Jane Street sunrise
         And the goddess on the fire escape was you

At this point Gina and Solange crawled over to daybed and shimmied under the goosedown quilt, which went a long way towards achieving the "Henry Orient" effect.

Two Against Nature unfolded as some sort of theme statement: artist as saviour/hero/stud or something like that. Julie thought it was a bit too mannered and Afrocentric in a Peter Gabriel sort of way but my own response was unambiguously physical. The idea that Donald and Walter could actually be summoned to one's side by calling an 800 number or whatever, 24/7, seems, to this writer, an irresistible one. Even as this supposedly gender-enlightened century gets under way, a girl still likes to have a strong man available for those little emergencies. Certainly clinical submissives like yours truly.

Next, Janie Runaway. Suzette said it could have been about her at 16, substituting Bath for Tampa and London for New York and with the fire coming at the end of the story instead of the beginning. The menage in Spain, though, was right on the money. Julie, true to form, said it was "more or less Hey 19 with earlaps".

As the sensual introduction to Almost Gothic began, Julie and I passed around a yummy selection of finger sandwiches along with a beautiful tea. And what a beautiful song! At this point we all began to wonder if the Moroccan mightn't have been brushed with some kind of liquid pharmaceutical, a hormone or pheromone or whatever. About this time our upstairs neighbor Naima, a 23 year old Eurasian runway model, rang up and asked if what she was hearing through the floor was in fact the new Dan album. When I confirmed this was the case she immediately blew off her date and joined us, looking amazing in a pair of scuzzy jeans and a powder blue sweater.

Jack of Speed, Cousin Dupree, sighs from a dark corner. 14 minutes to Millennium and the guy in Negative Girl is sure his beloved is "zooming on a couch somewhere"(Hello-oh Suzette!) I suppose we'll have to turn on telly when the disc is over and watch the vulgar fireworks display on the river. Quelle drear!

West of Hollywood is an epic work that confirms beyond all doubt that Americans are completely and utterly fucked. Another obsessive nihilist to join the lonely crowd. Romantic, though. And how exquisite is the extended coda - its like Handel wearing Coltrane's raincoat. As Chris Potter's fierce prayer swept to its desperate denouement (and our millennium to a close) something under goosedown liquefied, at least judging by the feline squalls from across the room. Naima and I kissed a long, sweet kiss and we all breathed together in the firelight as a hundred churchbells began to chime.



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