The Nightfly with Donald Fagen is still one of my favorite albums, 30 years after it was released. Now he is back with a new album, Sunken Condos. Listening to the album reveals a musical thread from The Nightfly
It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between Donald Fagen the solo artist and Donald Fagen the singer and composer and member of Steely Dan. His compository fingerprint is perceptible in everything he does. On top of that his voice is also very easily recognizable. I can still remember my fascination when I first heard Do It Again with Steely Dan in 1972. My next Steely Dan revelation was when Aja was released in 1977. After I had almost played Aja to its death, I discovered The Royal Scam and later Gaucho.
My favorite Steely Dan album is a toss between The Royal Scam and Aja. My favorite Fagen solo album is still the Nightfly. But there are songs on Sunken Condos that definitely competes with the best ones from The Nightfy. The best thing is that some of the songs also echo the Nightfly songs. I’m Not The Same Without You reminds me of New Frontier, while The New Breed has the same kind of harmony singing as Maxine. He has included one song by another composer on Sunken Condos, Isaac Hayes’ Out Of The Ghetto, while he did Ruby Baby by Leiber and Stoller on The Nightfly.
There are also other similarities, specially the production, even if Sunken Condos is definitely a modern production compared to the 30 year old Nightfly. Not to say that that wasn’t good, on the contrary, but Sunken Condos has a definitely retro feel, which was also the case of The Nightfly, where the 50s scare of the atomic bomb was one of several backdrops. I have to stress that I don’t think the similarities I have pointed out are bad things, on the contrary. To me they make Sunken Condos even more interesting.
Sunken Condos is a welcome come back (if such an expression is correct) for Donald Fagen. I haven’t got such good Fagen/Steely Dan vibes since The Nightfly, and Aja before that. Fagen has released good albums both as a solo artist and with his partner Walter Becker since then. But here he is back on track with funky, slick songs with lyrics that sound great, but are sometimes totally incomprehensible, plus some chord changes that defy most other rules than “The Fagen Rule”. Siince the sound of the lyrics are more important to me than their meaning, I haven’t tried to interpret them. On top of that we get great instrumentalists on all the eight songs on the album. That is good enough for me.
Donald Fagen – Sunken Condos (Warner Music)
The pictures are from a concert with Steely Dan at The Molde Jazz Festival in 2007. They are all © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used without written permission.