Release Date: Oct 16, 2012
Record label: Reprise
On "Memorabilia," a polished-up nugget of jazzy, Sanford & Son funk, Donald Fagen calls the title trappings "souvenirs of perfect doom." And if this Steely Dan-style set is proudly retro in sound, nostalgia remains suspect at best to the 64-year-old. "Slinky Thing" snarks at "a burned-out hippie clown," and a cover of the Isaac Hayes deep cut "Out of the Ghetto" gets down with a wink. The band, especially guitarist Jon Herington, is predictably hot and smooth, Fagen's voice oily-sweet as ever.
Morph the Cat wrapped up an alleged trilogy in 2006 -- a trilogy that only became apparent when Donald Fagen's three solo albums were boxed in a set called The Nightfly Trilogy in 2007 -- and Fagen then busied himself with live performances, something he avoided at the peak of his popularity in the '70s and '80s. With Walter Becker, he took several classic Steely Dan albums on tour, he became a frequent fixture at Levon Helm's Midnight Rambles, and, in 2010, he became the ringleader of the Dukes of September, a superstar blue-eyed soul revue featuring Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs. All this high-octane rhythm can be heard on Sunken Condos, Fagen's 2012 album and easily the liveliest solo album he's released since The Nightfly in 1982.
Calling Donald Fagen a singer/songwriter is a somewhat limiting description of what he actually delivers, both as frontman of Steely Dan and on his occasional solo albums. His latest, Sunken Condos, is a typical multi-tasking effort: He not only wrote the songs (with the exception of a sweaty cover of Isaac Hayes’ “Out Of The Ghetto,”) but he also co-produced the record and had a big hand in arranging the rhythms, background vocals, and horns. Those extracurricular skills have as much to do with the success of the album as anything else.
Something funny happened to me while I was listening to Donald Fagen’s fourth solo album, Sunken Condos, and first since 2006’s Morph the Cat. The record company kept a pretty tight leash on this release, and, to make a long story short, I had to download some software and then have the release streamed directly into my computer. However, when I went to play the album, each time that a new song began on the playlist of the stream, the volume control, for some reason or another, reset itself, effectively turning the volume down with the culmination of each track, resulting in a rather beleaguered rock critic having to manually turn up the volume in my computer’s control settings for each and every one of the nine songs that grace this long player.
When Steely Dan released Two Against Nature in 2000, it was as if their creative duo, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, had found nothing interesting musically to draw on in the two decades since their last release. But they've been on more searching form since. And it is a relief to find that here, on keyboardist Fagen's fourth solo album, a track such as Out of the Ghetto drags something out with it, even if it is only an Isaac Hayes cover.
Relaxed of groove but certainly sophisticated, this is Fagen on form. Martin Aston 2012 New York’s Steely Dan were one of the most swinging, groovy and erudite rock bands of the 1970s. When founder members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker split, frontman Fagen was the more visible flag-bearer of the two – except that he rather took his time over it.