Airtight – seems a good word for the music that Donald Fagen creates as one half of the creative-pairing that is Steely Dan and across four solo albums, Sunken Condos the most recent of those; arguably the most Dan-like too, in sound and feel. Not that the others weren’t – but given the recent spate of Steely Dan globe-strolling it makes sense that Fagen is in the pocket.
And let’s start there – because with the opening track, Slinky Thing, Sunken Condos immediately presents a version of the groove; the groove that’s been there across the last few Steely Dan albums (live and studio).
Also still there – always there – is that cynicism dressed and ready for a five-o’clock tipple. Here Fagen wonders about someone’s “new dot.com/life” and sings his own praises for feeling stronger and in better spirits thanks to the “awesome change” that kicks off I’m Not The Same Without You – which could have slotted into any of the Steely Dan records to date.
And what about, “Today we were strollin’/By the reptile cage/I’m thinkin’: Does she need somebody/Who’s closer to her own age?”
Donald Fagen is the closest that pop songwriting comes to The Simpsons or Jon Stewart or Woody Allen or The Onion.
He deserves a place in the pantheon of great American humourists – and if his slightly-asthmatic voice is studio-buffed, because live he really can’t (quite) cut it anymore, then so be it. That’s why you make records when you make these sorts of records. And, hey, there’s sharpness in the tongue still, if not the throat. And it’s a joy to listen to this man at work; the false sense of security that lounge-loping jazz-lite white-boy-funk-shuffle music misleads with. And the very true sense of insecurity the lyrics seek to expose – somewhat relentlessly in fact; the mask is the dinner-jazz backing.
Sunken Condos is the best Fagen solo album since The Nightfly, it’s better than the last two Steely Dan albums, it’s almost Gaucho-Part Two. And at times it’s the cruise-control, no-rush-at-all (and of course no static too) palinode to Todd Rundgren’s Liars album.
Made for those that hate him to keep on hatin’ – made for those that love him to fall right on under the spell.
As you were then. Because he’s as he is.