This is the album that introduced Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's unique, idiosyncratic, and highly polished craftsmanship. Although CAN'T BUY A THRILL lacks the overtly jazzy tendencies that would define albums like AJA, it distinguishes itself from nearly all of the mainstream pop and rock of the era with its smooth, lounge-y feel, catchy hooks, and immaculate studio polish. They were played alongside the Doobie Brothers and the Eagles on '70s FM radio, but Steely Dan's sound was more self-conscious and sophisticated than its peers: this was postmodern R&B, dressed up in a tuxedo, and holding an advanced degree. The album's hit single "Do It Again" is textbook Dan, with its slinky, Latin-touched groove, expansive, minor key melody, and shimmering veneer. Fagen's quirky vocals grace the track, and the record's other hit, the chugging "Reeling In the Years," with its memorable looping guitar riff, but several cuts here feature the vocals of David Palmer, whose sincere, straightforward pop-soul approach seems at odds with the band's aesthetic. Even so, CAN'T BUY A THRILL sparkles, and is the first impressive notch for a band whose output would continue to improve.
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