Walter Becker’s Circus Money was released in 2008. Though there hasn’t been a Steely Dan album since 2003’s Everything Must Go, the eleven years since have proven to be the most active period in Steely Dan history with numerous tours by the band and the Dukes of September side project by Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs and Donald Fagen. There were sporadic rumors during that time of new music from Steely Dan, but none materialized on stage (though a few rarities made their way to the set lists over the years). Many were surprised with the Reprise Records press releases of a new Donald Fagen album, Sunken Condos, scheduled for October 16, 2012 and even more intrigued by Donald Fagen’s claim that this and all his future recordings would be funky.
Sunken Condos has many familiar Steely Dan/Donald Fagen elements, but with the help of co-producer Michael Leonhart, Fagen was able to not faithfully go down a well-travelled road and not alienate his fanatical followers. The opening track, “ Slinky Thing” is an excellent example of the balance.
The acoustic bass of Joe Martin hints more of R&B than of jazz, and the familiar and rocking wah-wah guitar of John Herington with a fast paced aggressive solo picks up where he left off on Becker’s Circus Money. Fagen continues his lush horn arrangements and similarly to Everything Must Go, providing an arrangement that is effective, soulful and appropriate, as opposed to the lush and jazzy arrangements on Two Against Nature and Morph The Cat.
Leonhart proved invaluable on the horn arrangements on Two Against Nature and here, effectively applying his skills with co-arrangements for the horns, vocals and rhythm tracks. His collection of fabulous vintage keyboards helps move the track along (you can ever go wrong with a Fender Rhodes piano and a clavinet) but the star of “Slinky Thing” is Fagen. Leonhart even whips off an interestingly raw vibraphone passage on the song in support of Fagen’s sly yet simple track and sultry backing vocals provided by Steely Dan/Fagen regulars.
Fagen’s lyrics are slick, sassy and evocative. Fagen almost retells the story in “Hey Nineteen” only from a man who got the pretty young slinky thing and worries about keeping her away from the wolves. In the end he’s resolved to do his best to hold on, and the listener is drawn in to watch.
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