Of all the records associated with Steely Dan, Walter Becker, and Donald Fagen, this may be the best since “the comeback.” And that’s something coming from someone who thinks their records are among the finest ever made and contain some of the finest, smartest lyrics, musicianship (especially on guitar), and songs that have ever been committed to tape.
While Steely Dan was taking time off, Fagen assembled a band and this marvelous set of songs that deal with our post-9/11 world; not surprising, given the paranoia shown in the past by Fagen and Steely Dan. But in the lyrics here, there’s a sweetness and a sense of humor. The very funky “Brite Nightgown” represents death. “Security Joan” is a hit no matter how you look at it. Funny as hell, with a great groove. Scariness rears its head in “Mary Shut the Garden Door” in the form of a government taking over the country by force. And the music perfectly complements the lyric. A great hook and marvelous feel don’t hurt, either.
This record sounds fabulous, and the guitar work is amazing. Wayne Krantz offers up licks that join the pantheon of great Dan-related solos. His solo on “The Great Pagoda of Funn” fits a typical Dan pattern – back and forth between pentatonic and blues licks – in amazingly fresh and unique form. Jon Herington slinks wonderfully through the title cut and offers rare wah on “H Gang” which is as funky and cool as it’ll get this year. Krantz comes back for a really funky, and again, unique take on soloing on “Brite Nightgown.” And Ken Wessel’s rocky solo is the cream on top of “Security Joan.” The crunchy guitars of Herington, Krantz, and studio veteran Hugh McCracken help make “What I Do” another of the album’s many highlights. The lyric of that one finds Donald conversing with Ray Charles on Ray’s talents.
As you’d expect, the sound here is fabulous. Fagen’s vocals, and all the background vocals, are a treat to hear. The arrangements are right where you want them to be. I have no qualms guaranteeing this will be on my list of the 10 best records of the year. I wasn’t sure what to expect from another Fagen album, one which is really number three in a trilogy that stretches all the way back to 1982′s The Nightfly, but the results are more than pleasing.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s July ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.