While slick perfection was always The Dan's primary stock-in-trade, they never achieved it more fully than on Aja. This is an album of spotless, micromanaged clarity. Normally, that sort of thing would not appeal to me. To quote Grandaddy's great Christmas tune "Alan Parsons in a Winter Wonderland" 'my favourite songs have notes that are wrong.' Steely Dan are an exception to that rule, this album in particular. They are indeed the ultimate yacht-rock experience, if there can be said to be such a thing, but neither are they ever watered-down for mass consumption. The complexity is hidden in the sheer perfection of their songcraft, but the jazz side of their jazz-pop is never neglected (check that great sax solo in the midst of the title track and the strangely timed piano part of "I Got the News"), and there is a self-aware mischief running throughout their work as well.
For instance, take "Deacon Blues" which is arguably the high point of this album and certainly one of their greatest songs. The song is ostensibly about a struggling jazz musician who is embracing and mythologizing his own failure into a kind of purity, a satire of the prototypical hipster long before the current incarnation of the word came to be. There is something eerily perfect about a long, jazzy pop tune about embracing failure as an affirmation of one's dreams recorded right when the punk wave was about to hit. This album is, along with Rumours, utterly definitive of that point in time - slick and professional and smooth as butter on the surface but seething with all kinds of dark emotions and all crumbling to dust not far below.
This album is a perfect accompaniment to all the drinking and sadness of a seasonal affective disorder-riddled autumn and winter, so it has long meant a great deal to me. It makes me want to drink straight scotch or whiskey sours and watch old black and white films and just generally let the world flow around me without effect. Hymns of disconnection were never so clean and right-feeling.