Track 5 on Morph the Cat is an enigma; “The Great Pagoda of Funn” ranks with songs like “Maxine” and “On The Dunes” in terms of its sheer elegance. Yet underneath, its sheen is a dark and sinister post-911 world full of severed heads, hungry wolves closing in, pain and lies. Fagen is a master of producing cheery up tempo music with sinister lyrics; however, in “The Great Pagoda of Funn” he pairs his most descriptive lyrics on Morph the Cat with his jazziest music. Indeed, if I didn’t know better, I would assume that this track was co-written with Walter Becker as the lyrics are evocative, pointed and dark.
“The Great Pagoda of Funn” features occasional Steely Dan stand-in trumpeter Marvin Stamm who’s solos are rich and clever, and fit perfectly over the interlocked rhythm of drummer Keith Carlock and bass player “Ready” Freddy Washington. Fagen also gets in on the act but under the name of “Phonus Quaver” by providing effective vibraphone-like synthesizer flourishes.
Fagen once again shows his horn arranging chops, almost making a fan forget what Michael Leonhart contributed to the last two Steely Dan albums. The crowning jewel to the song is Wayne Krantz’s guitar soloing. His solo and rhythm styles are not unlike Walter Becker but with a more distorted tone. As with the pervious song, “Brite Nitegown,” Krantz’ s contributions are tasteful, appropriate and seemingly indispensable to the song.
“The Great Pagoda of Funn” is a perfect ending to Donald Fagen’s fourth solo album…unfortunately it goes on for three and a half more songs.
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