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Category:    Home > Reviews > Rock > Multi-Channel Music > Steely Dan: Gaucho (1980/Universal Music Hybrid 5.1 SACD)

Steely Dan: Gaucho (1980/Universal Music Hybrid 5.1 SACD)

Music: B PCM CD: B DSD Stereo: A DSD Multi-Channel: A- Extras: C

In the world of rock-n-roll there are very few artists that can be described as sophisticated, but Steely Dan certainly defines that term ever since the bands unique history starting with their debut in 1971. It would not be until their follow-up album Can't Buy A Thrill (1972) that would put them on the map with a more tightly constructed album that would set forth the formula for many albums to come.

1980s Gaucho is indeed a hard follow-up to the much celebrated and influential album Aja from 1977. Gaucho would also be a slight departure from that album as well, this time being more open and deliberate, but with all the raw passion being overplayed to a point where everything seems rehearsed. Aja and Gaucho both contain a similar jazz structure, but rooted within each are contexts that are total opposites. Aja was more cool and comfortable, where Gaucho is more unsetting once you truly unravel this album beginning to end.

Gaucho is certainly sophisticated, literate, mellow, refined, and exact, but in many ways it's nothing that hasn't been done before by this band, but most consider this to be that last great album from Steely Dan. Notice in the song Hey Nineteen the mention of Aretha Franklin and the fact that most people assumed that Aretha was part of the Motown movement. The understanding for music is at question here and in the song the narrator is assessing the fact that he and this girl that he knows have nothing in common or 'no common ground', therefore they can't dance together.

Also, Aretha had not had a big hit in several years, so before her comeback with albums like Jump To It (1982) and Who's Zoomin' Who (1984), what kid who had just been through the Disco era could possibly know who she was. The idea of greatness forgotten is a point taken. Without a doubt though, there is a level of elitism being played with here in the sense that if someone is not on the same level as you then they are not worth being with or being near. The criticism also hits younger people that dance the dance, but do not know the meaning of their movements. In other words, they talk the talk, but do not know the meaning of the words.

The other two highlight songs from this album Babylon Sisters, which sets the spirits for the rest of the album and Time Out of My Mind, which is another stand-out track that brings forth all the best in song writing and the high level of musical convention being used. While the album seems short in tracks, like Aja, each song is at least four minutes in length allowing for many moments of jazz breaks.

Track List:

Babylon Sisters

Hey Nineteen

Glamour Profession


Time Out of Mind

My Rival

Third World Man

Making its way to SACD format, Gaucho is a sheer delight that makes the format all the more important. We can quickly hear the level of detail that this group was working with all those years ago, but was never fully exposed since no format was able to bring forth their jazz interpretations with as much clarity, control, precision, and elegance. The SACD for Gaucho contains three audio options all of which are quite different. Since this is a Hybrid SACD it is compatible with all conventional CD players. The CD layer sounds good and even further refined from just the basic CD, but the real treatment comes from the two DSD tracks, one being SACD Stereo and the other SACD Surround.

Honestly, I find myself a bigger fan of SACD Stereo mixes versus the SACD Surround mixes simply because the music seems spread too thin when it attempts to throw sound into the surrounds just to give a slight ambience to the mix. Obviously a true Multi-Channel mix of 5.1 would be a preferred method giving us five discrete channels, but anytime we are dealing with a Stereo mix converted to a Surround mix it just never quite works. Most receivers automatically convert Stereo into Pro Logic II settings, which essentially takes that Stereo mix and matrixes the left and right front speakers into the center channel and then creates a monophonic rear signal that comes out of both left and right surrounds. Once again this is spreading things way too thin. When DTS Entertainment did their DTS-only 5.1 CD of the album, many complained about that mix, and the same guys mixed both discs. Fans even preferred the long out-of-print Mobile Fidelity 24K UltraDisc series CD to the DTS version.

The DSD Stereo mix is certainly the favorite here allowing the naturalness of the recording to penetrate through the front left and right with utmost clarity and control. Never before has this album been able to pierce through like it does here. Each chord, vocal, beat, and rhythm is delicately reproduced here for an unprecedented listening experience. Fans will also enjoy the sarcastic write-up inside the insert by Fagen and Becker. This is the only supplement aside from the lyrics being inserted as well, but indeed the biggest treat is being able to have this album stamped onto a format that no matter how loud you turn it up it never cracks, distorts, or becomes choppy at any moment. So the next time you want to show off your equipment to some of your friends from the country club, whip out your SACD of Gaucho and let the volume knob roll.

- Nate Goss


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