There's Something About Steely

Who would have thought that the filmmaking Farrelly Brothers, creators

of "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary," were big Steely

Dan fans? Not me. On one hand, you have Walter Becker and Donald Fagen's

darkly suave and often cryptic music; on the other, the Farrellys'

adolescent, decidedly callow (albeit undeniably clever) gross-out humor.

It's hard to see where the two sensibilities intersect. And yet, eight

of the 15 cuts on the soundtrack CD to the Farrellys' latest celluloid

bad-taste envelope-pusher, "Me, Myself & Irene," are Steely Dan covers.

Go figure.

Whatever their reason for being here, the Steely covers do give the CD a

bit more cohesion than your average soundtrack grab bag, even as they

demonstrate how the distinct eccentricities of Becker/Fagen resist

effective interpretation. There isn't a cover here that has the impact

of the original, or one that has a voice more interesting than Fagen's

strange mix of alienation and urgency, or that doesn't sound like it's

smoothing over the chordal non sequiturs that give the Steely songs

their strange and unique shape.

Not that the covers are bad, mind you — just kind of blah. The best

approach seems to be the most direct one, as on Wilco's reading of "Any

Major Dude Will Tell You" (

HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Wilco/Any_Major_Dude_Will_Tell_You.r

am">RealAudio excerpt) or Member 3's "Reelin' in the Years"

(

HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Marvelous_3,_The/Reelin_In_The_Years.ram">RealAudio excerpt), on both of which the music is basic

and the vocalist up-front and expressive, allowing that kernel of

complicated irritation that lies at the heart of so many Steely songs to

come through clearly. The more stylized approaches, such as Smash

Mouth's "Do It Again" or Ivy's "Only a Fool Would Say That" (which is

all style), sound emotionally blurry, distant and dull.

As for the non-Steely stuff, it's a mix of the usual "alternative"-rock

suspects (Foo Fighters, Third Eye Blind), the egregiously mainstream and

justly maligned Hootie & the Blowfish (one hopes, not having seen the

film, that the Farrellys' will have an ironic use for the Hootie cover

of the old Orpheus soft-rock hit, "Can't Find the Time to Tell You") and

obscure balladeers (Pete Yorn). And while it all seems rather random,

one does get the feeling, listening to the gratifying tantrum of the

Offspring's "Totalimmortal" (

HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Offspring,_The/Totalimmortal.ram">RealAudio excerpt), followed by the upbeat sentimentality of

folkie Ellis Paul's "The World Ain't Slowing Down," that it accurately

reflects the Farrellys' favored combination of liberating naughtiness

and just a touch of sappy romance. But, as with Jonathan Richman's odd

presence in "Something About Mary," just where Steely Dan fits in all

this, I couldn't say.