Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Donald Fagen

  • The Nightfly [Warner Bros., 1982] A
  • Kamakiriad [Reprise, 1993] ***
  • Morph the Cat [Reprise, 2006] Choice Cuts
  • Sunken Condos [Reprise, 2012] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Nightfly [Warner Bros., 1982]
Apparently, what Walter Becker brought to Steely Dan was an obscurantism that lost its relevance after the posthippie era. With words that always mean everything they want to say and aural pleasures that signify, these songs are among Fagen's finest, and if their circa-1960 vantage returns us to the student memories of Countdown to Ecstasy and Pretzel Logic, their tenderness is never nostalgic and their satire never sophomoric. Fagen's acutely shaded lyrics puts the jazziest music he's ever committed to vinyl into a context that like everything here is loving but very clear-eyed, leaving no doubt that this is a man who knows the limits of cool swing and doesn't believe the world was a decisively better place before John Kennedy died. A

Kamakiriad [Reprise, 1993]
virtuoso time warp--as gorgeous and shallow as Aja ("Teahouse on the Tracks," "Trans-Island Skyway") ***

Morph the Cat [Reprise, 2006]
"What I Do," "Security Joan," "Brite Nightgown" Choice Cuts

Sunken Condos [Reprise, 2012]
How can you not dig an ED-defying lounge lizard whose April-November romance evolves as far as "Today we were strollin'/By the reptile cage/I'm thinkin': Does she need somebody/Who's closer to her own age"? Whose examples of how "I'm Not the Same Without You" include a spontaneous facelift and an extra inch in height? This is cynicism lite swung tite. You'll grow to love the queen of Bowlmor Lanes, the Jazz Age gangster who takes pride in his work, the souvenirs of dooms past rusting in the back of the sci-fi shop. And before you get het up about the one called "Out of the Ghetto," know this: it's an Isaac Hayes cover. A-

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