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Circus Money

Mailboat Records - 2008

Artist: Walter Becker

Produced by Larry Klein

Rating: stars

I've been a fan of Steely Dan and Donald Fagen's work for a long time so I'm not sure how Walter Becker's solo stuff eluded me for so long. I stumbled onto his 1994 release, 11 Tracks of Whack, a few years ago but somehow I didn't see this one until last week.

Anyone who appreciates Steely Dan will no doubt enjoy listening to the individual contributions these two masterminds have made to the side stream of real music. In the 70s Becker and Fagen set themselves up for immediate success with the release their first album, Can't Buy A Thrill, which featured the hits Do It Again and Reelin' In The Years.

They kept the ball rolling with 6 subsequent solo albums birthing hits along the way all the way up to Aja which featured the most hits on one album, the title track Aja, Black Cow, Deacon Blues, Peg and Josie.

They produced one album per year, with a few years between Aja and Goucho, then took a break from "the Dan" to work on solo material. Fagen released The Nightfly in 1982, and Kamakiriad in 1993. Becker released his first solo effort, 11 Tracks of Whack, in 1994.

The Duo returned as Steely Dan in the early aughts with Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go, along with supporting tours, marking the first time they had toured since the late 70s.

In 2008 Becker released Circus Money, his second solo record and a fun one to boot. While I hold 11 Tracks of Whack a little more dear, I'm sure in time the songs and stories on Circus Money will win me over. With lyrics like "Your daddys' footfalls on the rain-slicked streets, you try to keep up with your little feets..." it's easy to settle right in for the journey because you know it will be interesting and fun.

First scan reveals a strong reggae vibe on many of the tracks compared to the more jazzy-fusion style of his previous album, which does not lack for interesting rhythms, give Surf And Or Die a listen. In Circus Money I was happy to hear a true one-drop beat in spots and not just a rock-reggae version.

The Steely Dan sound is an amalgam of many genres and styles, but reggae has only appeared in a handful of their songs. Of course Becker is not Steely Dan so we cannot compare the two apples for apples, though there are strong similarities. It's the nature of the beast. Production quality, chord voicings, guitar tone, song structure, attitude and general story telling methods are very familiar, but Fagen and Becker have very distinct voices and personalities.

With Circus Money Becker explores the assorrted, sordid subcultures of life, the typically untypical; the weird, the wrong, the wronged. The unfirtunate. Forelorn, witty and funny lyrics describe snapshots into lives filled with colorful characters and interesting scenarios fit for a screenplay.

We've got ditty's like Selfish Gene, which borrows from the title of Richard Dawkins' 1976 book The Selfish Gene, and attaches the moniker to an aggrivated egocentric personality who's sole purpose is self indulgence and using others for his eccentric pleasures.

A song about a call girl who thinks maybe, just maybe there is someone who gives two shits about who she is, but finally accepts what it is and decides to continue being just Somebody's Saturday Night.

A losers loser, a man-with-the-plan scraping the bottom of nothing taking a cohort on a booze and drug binge, preaching and spinning in the same circles which will lead to his inevitable demise, diving deeper into the Darkling Down. If they don't get into any decent clubs they'll just hit the cheap wine.

Becker and Fagan should script a film, we'd have one hell of a piece of art there if not a box orifice smash.

I don't know that any of today's kids even know who the hell Steely Dan, Donald Fagan and Walter Becker are, or what they stand for, if anything.

Even if indirectly, in all their sarcasm and wry wit, they seem to stand for some kind of goodness, at least honesty in art and music. Maybe just the honesty of being honest and true to yourself, but that's not a bad thing.

Circus Money is a good record I will continue to listen to. You can't go wrong with it. It's all there, the instrumental characters, intriguing lyrics, impeccable vocal delivery, great musicianship. Like other offerings from these two, solo or together, it's just good stuff. Whether they're all catchy hit radio songs or not doesn't matter anymore, they fill a nice space for many of us.

Last Update: 30 Nov, 2019

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