There’s been a major development in Steely Dan Land since our last SDS, as RollingStone.com posted a stream of a track from Donald Fagen’s upcoming Sunken Condos release. That warrants putting off thoughts on the first track on Fagen’s second solo album in order to take a gander at the first officially released track from Fagen’s fourth.
“I’m Not The Same Without You” is a recording that will immediately strike you as a track not possible from anybody else except from Fagen (or Fagen and Becker). The smart, punchy horn arrangements, chord changes more common in jazz than in rock, seamless layering of the instrumentation, sassy soul girls backup singing and a tough, unrelenting groove straight out of “Green Flower Street” are all the markers of a Fagen song when he is on his game. Only this time, there’s no Jeff Porcaro driving that groove, not even Keith Carlock. Nope, that’s Michael Leonhart, trumpet player and Sunken Condos co-producer. Fagen sometimes likes to sneak a little Ray Charles into his songs and here it comes from the savory blues-y harmonica of Will Galison.
But Fagen doesn’t ever just sweat merely the arrangements and production, he invests decades-long experience in crafting lyrics that don’t make their intentions too obvious, but if you noodle on it a bit you can usually figure it out. In this case, our antagonist is boasting how he is doing so much better after the dissolution of a relationship, but after overstating his improved state of affairs (“Now people tell me the shape of my face is changing/I’ve grown an inch taller since July”) you eventually come to realize he’s building a facade of ridiculously humorous proportions. It’s a similar storyline told on Steely Dan’s “Things I Miss The Most,” only with a healthy dose of absurdity tossed in.
It’s not all over the top, though. When Fagen sings the line “I feel much stronger than I have in years,” the arrangement, the melody, lyrics and, indeed, his nuanced vocal delivery make that verse a true depiction of where this man is at currently in his music career.
Will Sunken Condos save us from the dreck that passes for much of pop today? That might be hyperbole, too, but I’m a lot more hopeful that it will now that we have a taste of that album.