Steely Dan Sunday, “The Night Belongs To Mona” (2006)

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*** STEELY DAN SUNDAY INDEX ***

Steely Dan, ever the perverse band consisting of the duo of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker plus crack musicians, were ensconced in the studio by the mid 1970s, yet became consistent road warriors during their ’90s reincarnation and into the 21st Century. A series of tours interspersed with “band” and solo studio recordings… Ironically, you have to go back to the mid 70s to find albums with more live tracking than Everything Must Go and Morph the Cat. The more immediate recording approach and attitude are juxtaposed against the numb and anxious world of post-9/11 throughout those two recordings, and never more so than on “The Night Belongs to Mona.” The mid-life crisis of Everything Must Go has been replaced by the end-of-life crisis.

In Mona we find the poster child for “turning off” in the brave new world while, somehow, Donald Fagen continues the process of rediscovering his songwriting mojo. Instead of the rhythmic post-funk and cool jazz ditties of Kamakiriad and Everything Must Go, lyrical themes envelope and layer in the twilight world of characters on Morph the Cat and part of Everything Must Go. This song begins on piano and Fender Rhodes with, well, The End – a preview of the compelling theme from the last part of the chorus. Mona has turned her back on the light of day and lives by night, hovering high above the Manhattan. Interaction with the great big world out there has been replaced by the hum and soothing sound of her A/C and CD, cleverly referenced by Gordon Gottlieb’s percussion and Howard Levy’s harmonica. Formerly sunny Mona has gone Goth on us, dancing all alone in the cocoon she’s created: “feelin’ pretty.”

Fagen’s vocals come alive with clarity and tight harmonies that blend nicely with keyboards. The tasty horn arrangement and Levy’s cries and tweets compliment one of the most immediate and hummable set of verse and choruses Fagen has penned…Mona’s inner beauty that beams like that full moon on a clear, winter night.

No great Fagen tune would be complete without a brilliant bridge, and Mona does not disappoint. “Was it the fire downtown that turned your world around,” is an allusion to that terrible morning that changed all of us, and flipped Mona upside down… where she hides from the pain that won’t subside, exposed high above. The final verse is open ended for this sad, unfinished story as her acquaintance imagines Mona demise… or miraculously floating safely back into the world again as Fagen’s voice hovers in midair…

“We try not to see the writing on the wall
What happens tomorrow
When the moon rays
Get so bright
When she rises
Towards the starlight
Miles above
The city’s heat
Will she fall hard
Or float softly to the street”

Conspicuously absent is the characteristic solo on guitar or sax or horn or vibes, but an instrument break would arguably deface the completeness of this remarkable song and recording…which may just reach the 40 story heights of “Dr. Wu,” “IGY,” and “New Frontier.”

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John Lawler

J.M. Lawler is researcher living somewhere left of the Rio Grande, Texas, where he practices science - until he gets it right. He was first exposed to Steely Dan by a neighbor and the static of AM radio at a young age. Reach John at jml2621@gmail.com; contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.