March 14, 2006
disc comes crashing through the doors with screaming melodies that are
begging for Dr. Music's immediate attention. As the good doctor snaps
the tight plastic glove around his eager fingers, he inserts the disc
for a quick listen. Is this a disc in need of help, or is this a disc
that screams with a wealth of talent from the very first listen? Dr. Music
has only one chance to hear each track and give his expert opinion. After
that one listen, he will declare the status of the patient as "ALIVE"
or "DEAD." Will this month's patient make it out of the operating
This is . . . EMERGENCY SURGERY!
the Cat Donald Fagen
CD Review by Scott "Dr. Music"
Itter / 4/2006
Fagen, the voice of Steely Dan.
Donald Fagen, the genius of Jazz Rock.
Donald Fagen has finally returned with a new record to follow up his Grammy
nominated "Kamikiriad" release from 1993. Okay, so "Donald
Fagen, prolific recording artist" is a stretch, but when this guy
does do it he does it right. "Kamikiriad" was nominated for
Album of the Year, and it still remains a regular visitor to my disc player.
In my opinion, it was a perfect record. So, what am I expecting to hear
some thirteen years down the road? To be honest, I expect nothing less
than perfection from Fagen. For so many years, he and Walter Becker thrilled
and amazed me with their Steely Dan albums; blending jazz, rock, funk
and pop with an injection of wry and dry humor. I go into this expecting
to hear more great songs in the same vein of that Steely Dan and "Kamikiriad"
material. Does Fagen have some surprises in store? Will this be the pillar
of perfection that "Kamikiriad" was? Let's see.
Track 1: "Morph The
Opens with the soothing, yet funky bass line, backed
by the trademark occasional keyboard jolt. There's even a light horn all
the while, acting as the canvas for this classic musical collage. A light
breezy vocal track holds your hand as you skip through this one. I now
see that the track runs for almost seven minutes. Right at the four minute
mark, the vocals subside to allow the wailing guitar solo. And, right
at about five and a half into it, the vocals kneel to the horn jam session,
which continues until the fade out. So, we have the usual elements you
would expect from Fagen, all within this first track. Great stuff. RATING:
Track 2: "H Gang"
Funky and tight. This is the first single from the record, and it's no
surprise. There is some excellent guitar work in the beginning and the
end of this one, along with a classic horn sound and sweet vocals that
make up another great song. RATING: 9
Track 3: "What I Do"
This song stays in step with the attitude and rhythm of the
last two songs, but this time we get a harmonica solo at about two minutes
and fifteen seconds into this one. And this is another song of length,
clocking in at an even six minutes. Some nice backing vocal work, added
together with more of the harp to end the track. This one seems to get
a bit stale at six minutes though. Make this four minutes and I think
it works better, but not too bad. RATING: 6
Track 4: "Brite Nightgown"
real funky. Almost sounds like a Prince tune it's so funky!
This one has a running time of over seven minutes, too! At about two minutes
and twenty seconds into the tune we get a long vocal break that gives
way to a funky guitar piece, as well as a keyboard jaunt, which all lasts
a total of about two minutes. When we continue the vocal groove, the song
turns excessively repetitive and seems like it's fading for the last three
minutes. You get that "Is this ever going to end?" feeling.
Nice instrumental groove, but way, WAY too long. RATING: 4
Track 5: "The Great Pagoda Of Funn"
Nice steady pace that has that peaceful Steely Dan sway to it. Beautiful
blend of vocal harmonies and instrumental work, right up until the horns
take the reigns of the song with a blaring solo that lasts for about a
minute or so. As the song never loses pace, the vocal harmonies and instrumental
work seize the reigns once again, only to lead us to yet another solo
section, this time for the guitar. This guitar solo, which starts just
after the five minute mark, continues until the fade, which arrives at
just after seven and a half minutes. This is another really lengthy song.
This one has a much better pacing than "Brite Nightgown" did,
but it still yearns to end a tad sooner. RATING: 6
Track 6: "Security Joan"
This one has a more upbeat jazzy feel, with those incredible vocal harmonies.
There are plenty of lyrics and vocal groove to make this song, which also
clocks in over the six minute mark, a pure delight. The guitar solo that's
smack in the middle of the tune is perfectly placed and lasts a perfect
amount of time, so as not to lose the flow of the track. This is a great
example of how to write an interesting song that can last six minutes
or more. Great stuff. RATING: 8
Track 7: "The Night Belongs To Mona"
I immediately check the clock when this one starts, and we're significantly
shorter with this tune. At just over four minutes, "Mona" is
a slow and steady walk that utilizes all the weapons, but keeps it very
simple. Nothing special here, but a decent straight forward track nonetheless.
Track 8: "Mary Shut The Garden Door"
A moody bass line, coupled with a jumpy drum beat makes for an unusual
edginess here. There's almost a nervous tension to this one as Fagen quickly
spits out the title at the end of each verse. This is another song that
seems to be a run-on. Lasting slightly more than six and a half minutes,
"Mary" relies on some gentle harmonica solos to capture us for
a large portion of the time here. For me, that just wasn't enough. RATING:
Track 9: "Morph The Cat (Reprise)"
This is a little reminder (just under three minutes) of what the title
track sounded like, in case you forgot. With only one short verse here,
this is really an instrumental that simply acts as an unnecessary cap
to the album. RATING: 4
OVERALL RATING: 6 ALIVE!
I love the Fagen sound; the easy tones, the soft sway, the funky groove
that runs through so much of this stuff; it's all part of why I love this
guy, and all of that is represented here. On the other hand, if that sound
doesn't do that much for you, don't look for this one to do anything to
change your opinion. This is a fairly consistent record. We have the usual
ingredients that make Fagen who he is, and for most of this record they
make for an enjoyable listen. But, quite a few of the tunes here could
stand a minute or two chopped off of them, while some just don't work
that well, and a few of them are just spectacular. It's nowhere near the
dish that "Kamakiriad" was, or any of the Steely Dan albums
for that matter, but that's okay. Fagen is so distinctive and original
in his sound, and as he offers all of that up once again, I find it hard
not to appreciate it.