25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2006
A state of uncontrolled excitement came over me when I discovered Donald Fagen was releasing a new solo album - this great man's music has given me unparalleled enjoyment over the years. With 'Morph the Cat', Fagen has again crafted an absolute masterpiece of songwriting, musicianship and groove - entities that seem to have become conspicuously absent in the majority of popular music.
The advice from the ghost of Ray Charles appears to have been taken literally by Fagen - "Don don't despair, take some some time, just find your bad self you're gonna do just fine" - well it's been 13 years since Kamakiriad, he's certainly found his "bad self" and the music is pure joy.
As with all the classic Steely Dan albums and The Nightfly, there seems little point in highlighting "stand-out" songs, as with each listening, every track becomes a favourite. The musical nuances are gradually revealed, the subtle irony in the lyrics starts to fit together, the groove becomes thicker than ever, and another piece in the complex jigsaw of the Steely Dan character (and concept) fits into place.
Where to start? Well firstly this album SOUNDS so fantastically gorgeous it's nearly impossible to switch it off. Elliot Scheiner has replicated the lovely 'live' feeling of Everything Must Go - Fagen's vocals are fantastically well-recorded: punchy and direct on Brite Nitegown, soothing and soulful on What I Do. The assertive and soulful tone of Freddie Washington's bass underpins the whole album - how wrong I was when I thought Tom Barney was the only man for the modern-day Dan.
The music is full of challenging harmonic changes (check out the bridge on Brite Nitegown...oh my god!), carefully crafted melody (The Great Pagoda of Funn) and subtle counter-melody in the horn arrangements. For me, one of the most beautiful moments comes in 'What I Do' with the entrance of the backing vocals in the closing moments of the song - Brother Ray would be proud!
As ever, Fagen provides character analysis like nothing else - the tragic suicidality of Mona, the perverse infatuation on Security Joan, the contemporary paranoia in Mary Shut the Garden Door, and perhaps a love song in the Great Pagoda of Funn? I like to think so.
Superlatives aside for a moment, if I had to make a criticism it would be in the tenor sax department - for his angular qualities and beefy sound, Walt Weiskopf is great, but sorry Don, I'd much rather have the complex and swinging post-bop of the mighty Chris Potter.
Becker and Fagen believe Keith Carlock is "destined to be one of the greats", and let's face it - they'd know. The Steely Dan drummer's chair has been occupied by a veritable Who's Who of modern drumming (Purdie, Porcaro, Gadd, Lawson, Chambers, Erskine, Colaiuta), and to this album, Carlock brings class and versatility. The rhythm section works incredibly well, and adding in Jon Herrington on guitar (the modern-day Larry Carlton?) makes for a tight ensemble. As for 'Phonus Quaver' on vibes, I'm inclined to think this particular character may be another figment of Fagen's imagination...!
There is music in this album that I will continue to discover for many years, and I find it a privilege to be around at a time where Steely Dan are having such a fertile period. So my advice - buy, borrow or steal this fantastic music from somewhere, you won't regret it!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Another infrequent yet unmistakeable bunch of cool stuff from Donald Fagen. Nothing particularly different from what you'll be used to if you're a regular Becker/Fagan fan and, notwithstanding the fact that Walter isn't mentioned at all in the booklet ("sleeve notes" would date me terribly), this could easily be the Steely Dan follow-up to Everything Must Go. It does resemble that album quite closely in terms of its overall sound, structure and instrumentation: there's a similar selection of keyboards, you've got the same female chorus quite prominent in places, the usual suspects on guitar (and very tasteful too), plus the expected bookish lyrics which offer plenty of scope for study and interpretation. Donald's voice sounds a touch strained in places but then he does tend to sing from the throat rather than the diaphragm and it *is* strangely distinctive and likeable. Typically, the songs barely make an impact the first time and it takes several listens before the subtle melodies and clever arrangements begin to fix themselves in the mind - but we wouldn't want it any other way. So - is it worth buying? "Cheesy", said a friend of mine the first time she listened to it. "Well ... " I faltered, reddening and somewhat nonplussed, "maybe, but at least it's a mature and complex Stilton and not a pale lump of nondescript sheep's milk thingy". That shut *her* up. She's a Nightfly lover you see (aren't we all?). And of course it's worth buying. Well, you're not going to wait the best part of twenty years for the next one, are you?
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 21 March 2006
Having listened to Donald Fagen's new album only a few times, owing to work commitments, my comments are still provisional and may well change as this is one of those Steely Dan/Fagen albums that takes time to acclimatise oneself to and I may well end up loving this one as much as the others. As of now, however, I have slight reservations. The band's last release "Everything must go" was, by comparison, very accessible, with lots of strong melodic hooks and relatively transparent arrangements. This one is more like "Two against nature", in that some of the tracks are accessible (such as "H Gang and "Security Joan"), whilst others contain complex chord sequences and unexpected melodic twists that are challenging, to say the least, on a first listen ("Pagoda of Funn" being the prime example of this). Interestingly, from the reviews posted here and the Steely Dan chat rooms, it would seem that two very distinct camps are forming within the Steely Dan fan base. The first camp loves the strong melodies and quirky arrangements of the early Dan. These fans tend to like "Everything must go", and are inclined to be somewhat dismissive of the latest effort. The second camp, which is waxing lyrical about this record, is the portion of the fan base that liked the more complex, multi-layered arrangements of "Two versus nature". If you're in the latter camp you will love this album, as it is all of a piece with TvN. I'm pretty fanatical about all Steely Dan's music, but I have to admit that I'm slightly uncertain about "Morph the Cat". I can see why it is dividing opinion, but I don't understand some of the more extreme comments posted here. There are plenty of strong melodies here, so the view expressed by some reviews that Fagen has thrown melody out of the window in favour of grooves is far from the mark. On the other hand, however, I don't think this is Fagen's best work since the Aja era. Compared with "Aja" and "Gaucho", there's less rhythmic variety here, and there is a sense of urgency about much of the music which means that the overall sound is less spacious or measured than on the classic Dan albums of the 1970s. It's very difficult, for example, to imagine either Fagen or Steely Dan opening an album now with a slow paced ballad such as "Babylon Sisters". Instead, the emphasis here is on giving every track a strong R&B groove. This has always been a crucial element of the Dan sound, but here it is ubiquitous and at times it contributes to a sense that the music lacks real surprise (which isn't really true as there are plenty of unexpected twists in the arrangements and instrumental solos). On the first few listens also, I didn't hear anything as spine-chillingly brilliant as "Jack of Speed" from TvN or "Godwacker". Again, this may change as I acclimatise myself to the more difficult tracks. If you've enjoyed Steely Dan in the past, you should definitely buy this album as you will find much to enjoy. But claims that it is the equal of "Aja" and "Gaucho" are exaggerated.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 18 May 2007
Most people who have written reviews for this record appear to be well familiar with S.Dan. I have most of their stuff but had overlooked this. It takes a couple of listens but once you're there it is difficult to listen to anything else. I guess that's where obsessive quality control and perfectionism gets you. Who else today even wants their music to sound as immaculate as this? Perhaps the ultra-smoothness irritates some people - which is their loss. There is a bittersweet quality to these tunes which I find quite touching. Maybe "Brite Nightgown" is half a notch down on the rest. The coda of "What I Do" is so beautiful I almost want to pass out. Warning - don't be put off by the dreadful photographs of Fagan in the CD booklet (what on earth was he doing?)Buy immediately.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 24 April 2006
This is quite simply a great album. If you don't know Donald Fagen or Steely Dan, and some people don't except through hearing their music sampled, then the best description is that it's adult pop with slightly world weary lyrics mixed in with Jazz riffs and techniques and this is one of the best examples of that style of music. It's not Jazz fusion, although it bears some resemblance, it's not crass easy listening, although it'll probably be played on "smooth" radio stations, it's something quite unique.
More realistically if you do know Steely Dan and Fagen then all I can say is that not since Aja or Gaucho have either Becker or Fagen produced anything which felt like a natural successor to the Steely Dan albums I remember playing. Well this is it, as another reviewer has written this could sit well alongside Aja or Gaucho, updated yes, written for the noughties yes, but unmistakeably a return to the slightly "edgier" chords (Yes the mu major chord is in there!) that Steely Dan fans like so much. I am in fact surprised that this album is from Fagen, Steely Dan's Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go, enjoyable though they were, made me feel that they had departed in a direction taken by Fagen in Nightfly and Kamakiriad, hopefully this album shows he still enjoys the style and sounds he and Becker used to produce. Home at last!
If you're not familiar with Steely Dan and are thinking of buying this because you liked Nightfly and Kamakiriad then be prepared for a difference. The quality is as good, the melodies are as catchy as ever and the wit and adult cynicism are just as evident. You will hear vague reprises from both but this is fundamentally in a different style. Buy it anyway!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 9 April 2008
Well , I've read all the comments about 'finely-crafted' , all the name-dropping about who's a better bass-player etc etc, and so what?
Yes, I'm a DAN fan and have the complete works (what DAN fan doesn't?)
First impressions weren't good, but as so many other reviews have said , it really grows on you, so keep playing it! There are weak songs to my taste (Security Joan, Brite Nightgown), and there are weaknesses in some tracks where the 'solos' just go nowhere, and there's the awful brass on Morph the Cat playout which sounds like my cat on a bad day. Then there's "What I Do" which is far away the one with immediate appeal which can pale after too many plays, but Pagoda of Funn is the outstanding track of the album, albeit slightly overlong, which I would never tire of. Would I recommend the album? - definitely , and not just to DAN fans.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 September 2007
Great cd with the bonus DVD-Audio disc with high-res 5.1 surround sound which will play back (albeit at lower quality) in any dvd player.
I'd say not quite as good as Kamakiriad, where all tracks are really spot-on but better than The Nightfly. I think you need to stick with this album...its a grower, rather than instant.
Interesting that theres no mention anywhere of Walter Becker...wonder what happened or maybe he's just busy with other stuff.
So- tunes- yep, 7/10...the title track is the best
production/sound- 10 on 10
value for money- bingo, 10 on 10 with the bonus DVD-A disc too. I'd recommend any Steely Dan or Donald Fagen to get this release.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
It's rare for albums to be as interesting lyrically as Morph The Cat. Set to a beautifully arranged smoky, compelling, jazz-soaked soundtrack, this album is full of characters, intricately described settings and cynical social commentary, delivered in a knowing smooth vocal style. This is a very accomplished album which never fails to deliver, providing a very satisfying listening experience from start to finish. If there could be anything which lets the album down slightly, it would be that it is a tad lacking in musical passion, replacing fire with competency. It's all rather good, though, and the lyrics really do excel.
on 11 May 2014
Donald Fagen's album Morph the Cat came out some years ago now (2006), so why not add another review, a few years on, to the many already posted here? I have listened to Morph many times and my view is pretty much established now, that it is an inconsistent album, but that the good tracks are fantastic. For my money it has 3 killer tracks: the opening title track which is outstanding in so many ways, H-Gang, and Brite Nitegown. The latter of those three is the most groovesome and totally kick-ass song on the album (one can imagine Justin Timberlake singing that falsetto lead vocal, but harder to imagine him making sense of the lyrics which recount three fictional encounters with death – 'the fellow in the brite nightgown'). What I Do is a pleasant minor blues about one of Fagen's musical heroes, Ray Charles, but is the kind of song that he could probably write in his sleep. The Great Pagoda of Fun is a superb piece with a strong melody, beautiful arrangement and very tasteful guitar outro from Wayne Krantz, but Donald's voice detracts from the song – his vocal talents, never conventional and having diminished with time, cannot cope with the range and the song needs a stronger singer to do it justice. It would certainly be too harsh to describe the rest as filler but Security Joan hardly justifies album space, whereas The Night Belongs to Mona is, to my ears, fairly bland and slightly grating. Mary Shut the Garden Door is atmospheric and has an interesting lyric but is ultimately not very memorable. The final track is a reprise of the title track (some different harmonies, a chorus and a guitar outro) and reminds us with what a bang the album started.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 14 March 2006
So good to find a new release from DF. The album holds no surprises as it does just what you would expect. Clever arrangements, terrific chords and melodies. In fact it is hard to distinguish the solo work here and the recent Dan albums. But a joy to put on the CD player that puts many other artists into the shade.