What He Does
How you feel when one of your favorite artists releases a new album depends in part, I find, on how often they release a new album. Take Van Morrison, who's been releasing one a year recently--you know that if you don't like it, there'll be another one coming along shortly. Donald Fagen is the opposite case--last week's release of Morph the Cat was his first solo release since 1993's Kamakiriad, which was itself 11 years removed from The Nightfly. So you naturally fear that if, for some reason, Morph isn't very good, you'll have to wait until at least 2017 for Fagen to try again.
Not to worry. Morph the Cat isn't just good, it's great--better than both Kamakiriad and The Nightfly, and maybe as good as Steely Dan's 1978 masterpiece, Aja. The songs are far stronger than the ones on Kamakiriad--Fagen chats with the ghost of Ray Charles on "What I Do," is patted down at the airport by "Security Joan," and takes on contemporary politics in "Mary Shut the Garden Door," a tale of aliens who invade in a fleet of Lincoln Town Cars, inspired, Fagen says, by the 2004 Republican Convention held in New York City. Musically--perhaps "sonically" is a better word--this is one of the more rewarding records you'll ever hear, rich with all sorts of interesting musical sounds. The various melody lines and solos are one thing, but what fascinated me were the little bits of organ, vibraphone, guitar, sax, and melodica that Fagen layers over bass and drums that are typically tight. There are hooks enough for everybody on this album, and in fact, "Security Joan" might be the hookiest song Fagen's ever played on, either with the Dan or by himself. And on the album's bonus track, "Rhymes," Fagen channels every great R&B singer he's ever heard into a completely convincing performance.
As a fan of both Fagen and the Dan, I expected to like this record. What I didn't expect is how much I'd like it. It's going to have a hard time getting out of the CD player for a good long while. You can get it for yourself by clicking the link above, or using the iTunes link on the right side of this page.