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4.3 out of 5 stars
Sunken Condos
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
It all starts with a signature groove so nasty it could be a pantomime villain and before you can shout "behind you" we are deep into the new Donald Fagen LP "Sunken Condo's". With the "Nightfly Trilogy" now safely tucked away the erstwhile Steely Dan frontman is free to cast away the concept shackles and provide a straightforward set of expertly delivered jazzy rock tinged with soul. Whether he and Walter Becker will ever follow up the decade old "Everything must go" is a moot point but frankly as long as both artists produce wonderful solo material from time to time we should pay homage to the mighty forces. There have been some reviews claiming that "SC" ranks alongside "The Nightfly" as Fagen's best solo effort to date. This suggestion deserves outright scepticism since his first solo album recorded nearly 30 years ago remains peerless and his latest doesn't match it. What "Sunken Condo's" does represent is further evidence of that unswerving and alarming quality control that Fagen has achieved on all his albums ensuring that nearly all of them remain head and shoulders above most artists. It's all about cool detachment, a sprinkling of cynicism and songs like onions that you peel away and discover different layers. By doing so they reveal something slightly quirky and original. The delight of an unnoticed backbeat, deep bass run or a jazzy guitar phrase so that every listen sucks you in to Fagen's sheer level of musical craft.

The albums opener is the louche jazz of "Slinky thing". It has everything you would expect from Fagen present and correct. The band is tighter than a gnat's chuff, lyrically we have females standing next to a "Reptile cage" and great understated guitar solos from Jon Herington. Next up "Not the same without you" is so pure Steely Dan it could have been on "Gaucho" where ironically forty years after "Can't buy a thrill" Fagen tells us "that I'm evolving now/at a really astounding rate of speed". Who are we to argue? Third track "Memorabilia" is one of those upon first listens seems rather repetitive but stick with it since it turns out to be a lovely song. "Weather in my head" is one of the toughest urban blues songs Fagen has penned and references Al Gore with great horns from co-producer Michael Leonheart, while "New Breed" has one of those slight reggae vibes which are a specialty of our hero and echoes "Gaslighting Abbie". One bump in the road is the cover of Issac Hayes funk anthem "Out of the Ghetto" which would no doubt make a great encore in a live show but doesn't really fit here. Do not fret too much however since Fagen follows this with his best song in many a long year and the albums highlight. "Miss Marlene". This is a brilliant and effortless collection of jazzy grooves so infectious they could cause a pandemic and his acerbic nasal croon is as good as ever. A fine Fagen lyric underpins it and the band is cut loose resulting in some of the greatest "Dan style" instrumentation since "Aja". Download it immediately and think kindly of your reviewer. More cool nasty funk follows on the truly excellent "Good stuff" a song which deals with the shipping of an illegal special brew which requires that "Tonight we jack the convoy/ Two hundred barrel run /Trucked in from Agooey/In East Patterson". Closer "Planet D'rhonda" has a superb solo at its heart from jazz guitar giant Kurt Rosenwinke (thank you Erik) but at this stage it sounds like one of the weaker songs on the album.

So there it is. The master returns with yet another dose of what Adam Sweeting has described with pinpoint precision as "a set of impeccably tailored grooves which wear their expertise with insolent nonchalance". "Sunken Condo's" also confirms that there are a generation of musicians like Donald Fagen who qualify for Saga holidays but who refuse to lie down and indeed seem to be thriving into the third age. This album is quite a treat and you really would be very foolish not to let it soundtrack your daily existence for a short while.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 1 November 2012
The first time I listened to this I though 'same old same old'. On second listening certain tracks began to stand out. Now I can stop listening to it. I really like it. Persevere....
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on 15 October 2012
You know exactly what to expect from Donald Fagen: that distinctive nasal whine, unpredictable chord changes, jazzy grooves galore, acerbic lyrics (some very nice stabs at self-deprecation here), and some top-notch horn arrangements, all expertly packaged and smoothly (if at times a little too smoothly) delivered by a band as tight as the proverbial you-know-what.

It's never been particularly easy to draw a neat dividing line between Don and Dan, but for a band notorious for its meticulous (if not downright obsessive) attention to detail Fagen brings an unexpected lightness of touch to "Sunken Condos", perhaps the result of having shared production duties with long-time cohort Michael Leonhart.

For all that, the album boasts some notable Danesque moments - the bluesy "Weather In My Head" and "Miss Marlene" two strong examples.

Some highly elegant soloing elevates tracks such as "Memorabilia" and "Planet D'Rhonda" whilst a surprising choice of cover in Isaac Hayes' "Out of the Ghetto" is deconstructed and given the full DF treatment but survives to tell the tale, dropping another memorable solo along the way.

For an artist into his fifth decade of making music it's hardly surprising that parts of this album should sound a tad familiar. "Good Stuff" borrows both melody and rhyme scheme from "Two Against Nature" whilst "The New Breed" has strong overtones of "Janie Runaway".

A little more grit would have been welcome but by and large "Sunken Condos" comfortably maintains Fagen's proud quality-control standards, even if ultimately it breaks little new ground.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 2 May 2013
I've very little to say about this because 100/120 reviews at 4 and 5 pretty much says it all.

However, one thing I would like to emphasize is that Fagen's voice is getting better with age - it's getting deeper, but he's not losing his ability to hit the higher notes. I think this extra vocal range adds some layers of richness that perhaps have not been apparent in his earlier stuff (including SD stuff).

In terms of his singing, I think this is the best album he's done.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Initially, this album didn't make much impression on me and was filed amongst others spawned from the great Steely Dan family. It seemed well-played, with well-crafted songs and excellent production. However, after a few months the songs have really grown on me and I find myself singing them in my head and really appreciating the subtle grooves with their little syncopations, that are never flashy or showy, but insinuate themselves into your consciousness.

Tracks like "Slinky Thing" and "Memorabilia" have really nice, bass-driven grooves that are unique to Fagen and his band of studio session players/Jazz musicians. What is really unusual, is to find somebody who takes as much interest in crafting arrangements,as he does his lyrics.

Each tune here, has its own little world and the lyrics tell stories that draw you in, with a few choice words and intriguing characters. Fagen is the master of this kind of thing and while Steely Dan albums have varied, his solo albums have a certain kind of consistency and his own personal touch.

This album has been on heavy rotation on radio stations and Jazz FM in particular where it might well be classed in amongst what is known in the US as "Smooth Jazz" - its grooves slide past you without causing any disturbance. But I think it deserves more attention and the intelligent lyrics with subtle attention to detail, marks this out as its own thing.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 1 November 2012
What can I say, but for a chance listen to BBC Radio 2, wouldn't have known that Donald Fagen had a new cd out.

Put it on in the car on the way home from work and it was like meeting up with an old friend for coffee whereby the passage of time seemed like a heartbeat.

I absolutely love this album from the opening track to the closing track. Another masterpiece from the genius that is Donald Fagen.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 4 April 2013
Sorry, can't understand the bad reviews of this. For me, Don's solo albums keep improving. This is not intended as damnation by faint praise but this album is consistently great.
Is it funk?
Is it pop?
Is it soul?
Is it jazz?
Is it rock?
Is it R&B (the proper one)?
Just like Steely Dan it is uncategorisable. Just like Steely Dan, it is brilliant.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
If you know Steely Dan, then you already know this artist. From memory his fourth solo album and in my opinion his finest. As ever his music sounds so simple until you try to deconstruct it whereupon you find complex chord progressions and melodies, underpinning lyrics as mysterious as ever. A few Google searches and you think you now understand the lyric, but for me this does not improve my pleasure in listening to the construction as a whole. His vocals are as Fagenesque as ever; there are some clever little phrases which repeat and intrigue (listen to that addictive keyboard phrase on The Good Stuff"); some tracks need more than one hearing to realise how good they are.

This is clever jazz, hidden in an innocent wrapper and based on that same winning concept of clever tunes played by the most competent musicians; fans will already have bought this without question, but if you have stumbled across this review by chance, buy this album. It will be a tenner well spent and I guarantee you will progress to hunting down his other works.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2012
Buy it, you'll love it. It's a grower. The opening track 'Slinky Thing', the Issac Hayes cover 'Out of the Ghetto', and 'Good Stuff' alone are worth buying the album.

What stuck me particularly is the quality of the solo-ing as well as the usual exceptional production quality that we have come to expect from Donald. I say its a grower, because on first listen tracks like 'I'm not the Same Without You' and a couple of others didn't make an initial impact on me. Then I listened the album like I used to - from start to finish 'properly' (i.e. when listening to vinyl), giving it my undivided attention and loved the whole thing. This is not throw away, background music stuff. Its play it loud - give it your undivided attention stuff, if you do that you will receive the reward.

On a personal level Slinky Thing','Good Stuff' & 'Planet D'Rhonda' really press all my buttons. Comes in a double mini LP style paper-sleeve including a full colour booklet with all the lyrics and info in text that is big enough to read.

Hopefully it won't be another 6 years till the next one. Mind you I am hoping the 13 years from 'Kamakiriad' to 'Morph the Cat' and the 6 years to 'Sunken Condos' means we can look forward to the next one about 2015?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 30 October 2012
Another fabulous album from Donald Fagen, a genius,who has been a light in my musical life for many years.
Perfect in every way, love it.
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