2014-01-28

Who Is The Modern-Day Steely Dan?

In the 1970s, Steely Dan made a name for themselves by playing jazz-inflected pop rock music that was heavy on the instrumentation, mildly progressive, and above all, sharply witty and critical of popular culture. No matter how much jazz they threw into the mix - the classic "Your Gold Teeth II" features a brilliant, jazzy solo by guitarist Denny Dias, for example - Steely Dan managed to achieve widespread commercial success and critical acclaim without ever receiving too-harsh criticism for their jazz roots. Despite their deep-cut forays into progressive rock territory (take the extended instrumental mid-section of the song "Aja," for example), they were still able to churn out hit after hit, like a regular gold record factory. And no matter how sharp and bitter the lyrical criticisms got ("You've been telling me you're a genius since you were 17 / And all the years I've known you, I still don't know what you mean"), they never reached the point of being thoroughly off-putting.

Put it all together, and what have you got? You've got a band that sits comfortably within the radio-friendly mainstream, while simultaneously keeping close touch with the guardians of intelligent music (jazz, classical, progressive rock, and the like). You've got a band that combines sharp wit, cocked, loaded, and aimed directly at pop culture while simultaneously being a part of it. You've got a band that, despite not being universally beloved, is widely adored by both casual pop music fans and music snobs alike.

Does anyone in the modern music landscape fit this description? The only name that comes to my mind is Foo Fighters, and they are not quite intelligent enough to warrant the comparison.

What's your opinion?