Sunken Condos

Donald Fagen

Reprise, 2012

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Much like Kamikiriad, Donald Fagen’s rather dull follow-up to The Nightfly, his newest effort is a rather uninspired outing through the light jazz rock that has served his 40-year career rather well, following up 2006’s frustrating but somewhat worthwhile Morph The Cat.

First single “I’m Not The Same Without You” was a canny choice; it strongly recalls Steely Dan, Fagen’s old band, then adds a rather funky bass line and tasteful horns. It’s derivative of anything on Katy Lied with the rough edges smoothed out; to compensate, Fagen sings the kiss-off lyrics with gusto: “I’m evolving at a really astounding rate of speed / Into something way cooler, than what I was before / I feel much stronger than I have in years / My mind is sharp and my spirit’s high.” That is how you do a breakup letter, kids.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The record mines the same adult contemporary light jazz as previous Fagen and Steely Dan outings, making it a welcome release for fans, but most everyone else will likely see this as pleasant background music. It takes several listens to grasp the subtleties – the guitar solo on “Weather In My Head,” the Stevie Wonder feel of “The New Breed” – that color the songs. One shouldn’t have to work that hard to find highlights, though.

A cover of Isaac Hayes’ “Out Of The Ghetto” arrives in the middle of the album; easily the best track here, it hints as to what this album could have been. Fagen reportedly urged the players to be funky, but little of that comes through in the tempered final songs, as if cutting loose would be antithetical to Fagen’s approach to music. Songs like “Slinky Thing” and “Miss Marlene” want so much to break out of the tasteful background mode but just can’t overcome the dull arrangements and playing.

Doing his best to bring in da funk is Steely Dan bassist Freddie Washington, who has only improved with time. His work alone is reason to check this out, especially on songs like “Ghetto” and “Good Stuff.” Fagen also deserves praise for his singing, which has more bite and passion than anything he’s done since Two Against Nature.

Fagen keeps things to a brief 44 minutes, the length of an album, but that’s not a complaint with music this bland. The best of the man’s work, both solo and with Steely Dan, gets a nagging melody or lyric lodged in your head, but precious little on Sunken Condos inspires or warrants repeated listens…for those who happen across this unaware. For Fagen and Steely Dan fans, it’s merely a continuation of what you already like about this stuff in the first place, albeit with diminished returns.

Rating: C-

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