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Music Review

Book Cover

Circus Money


Artist: Walter Becker
RRP: £13.99
Available 14 July 2008

It's been 14 years since Walter Becker released his first solo album, 1994's 11 Tracks of Whack. Becker is better known to most as one half of jazz-rock band Steely Dan, and his fans have waited patiently for his second solo album.

Released through Sonic360, Circus Money, is produced and co-written by Grammy Award winner Larry Klein (who previously produced albums for Joni Mitchell - who he was married to; Mary Black; Holly Cole; and most recently Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters) and was three years in the making.

Steely Dan fans will be pleased to hear that drummer Keith Carlock and guitarist Jon Herington, both of whom have toured with the band, are on board. Ted Baker and Jim Beard were also recruited to provide their keyboarding skills, while Becker provides all of the lead vocals and bass work.

Becker admits that he was influenced by Jamaican music - which he was heavily into when he started writing the album. This is fairly noticeable in the tracks, as reggae is used as a stepping-off point particularly in the rhythm section.

The album kicks off with 'Door Number Two'. The title, Becker attributes to an incident one night where he awoke from a dream and asked his wife, "Can you tell me what’s behind door number two?" Becker's humour is also injected into the lyrics as he ask what are the chances for a new love, a new hairline, fame and fortune. The title track is a mellow gamble that pays off and eases us into the rest of the album.

'Downtown Canon', and the reggae influence comes to the fore. It's subtle, but unmistakable.

'Bob Is Not Your Uncle Any More' is, according to Becker, just another bitter reproach-slash-love song. This is possibly the album's most Jamaican infused track.

Becker states that 'Upside Looking Down' has a ring of Leiber & Stoller or Bert Berns about it. I can't argue with that.

'Paging Audrey' opens with some beautiful chord changes which pan out into a funky melody with a neat little tenor sax solo by Chris Potter.

The album's title track, 'Circus Money', was conceived after Becker dropped off a friend and his two kids at the Big Apple Circus in Manhattan. That trip prompted him to start thinking of the circus as a metaphor and this song is the result. It also contains some of the best lyrics on the album. There's also a twinge of Prince about it.

'Selfish Gene' is a play on the quasi-scientific concept that a particular member of a species may, at times, act in a way that is not in its interest but benefits the species in general. An example may be a male spider that mates with a female and then is eaten by her. "We just transferred it to Brentwood," says Becker. It's also my favourite track on the album and incorporates some incredible chord changes.

The title for 'Do You Remember The Name' was inspired by a conversation Becker had with a German businessman on a plane. During their conversation the passenger dropped a lot of famous names, people he had known, like Vladimir Horowitz and Igor Stravinsky, and always added "Do you remember the name?" as a kind of rhetorical flourish. "I later found the phrase in a poem by Goethe," recalls Becker. "I think it must be a sort of Germanic idiom."

'Somebody’s Saturday Night' is a dating song, although a suspect it's more an anti-dating song about the sort of woman you only fall for after a few drinks on the town.

'Darkling Down' is about someone who is on a bad run and it’s been going on for so long that they see themselves only in terms of this exhilarating race to the bottom. It's quite a sad song, but ironically has an upbeat tune.

We've got Becker's wife to thank for the inspiration of 'God’s Eye View'. She's an experimental psychologist and this is a term that is used to describe something that you could know if you knew everything. But of course, you don’t. Not one of my favourite tracks, but it's still enjoyable.

'Three Picture Deal' is a great choice to close the album. It leaves you on a high and wanting more - which you get if you buy the European release of the album as there is one more track 'Dark Horse Dub’.

One think is certain, the wait was certainly worth it. But, lets hope we won't have to wait another 14 years for Becker's next solo album.


Nick Smithson

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