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Fagen solo as good as Steely Dan together

Morph the Cat
Morph the Cat
By Donald Fagen

Reprise Records: 2006

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This review first appeared in Turbula in March 2006.

Donald Fagen's third solo album (and the first since 1993's "Kamakiriad") seems more an extension of Steely Dan's last two albums than any creative break.

Of course, given that Fagen is not only the singer for Steely Dan, but co-writes all of its songs with creative partner Walter Becker, any Fagen solo outing is going to, by default, sound an awful lot like Steely Dan.

Still, even given all that, "Morph the Cat" fits in quite comfortably at the tail end of the progression of "Two Against Nature" to "Everything Must Go." It continues the super-smooth arrangements the band adopted with 1977's "Aja" – balancing Fagen's funky keyboards against syncopated guitars and horn charts.

The songs are some of his best, even without Becker's usual contribution. While the jazzy "H Gang" is being pitched as the album's first single, the downtempo "What I Do" may have the more seductive melody – but both sound as if they could have come from any Steely Dan album from "Aja" forward.

And, yes, Fagen's lyrical wordplay remains as sparkling as ever. Whether talking about a liaison with an airport security agent or a series of meetings with death, nobody is as clever with a lyric.

"Morph the Cat" is as complete an effort as anything Fagen has done in Steely Dan &I#150; it's immediately listenable, yet interesting enough to hold your attention over and again.