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Morph the Cat

Morph the Cat

4.5 6
by Donald Fagen

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Donald Fagen has said that he considers his much-anticipated third solo album, Morph the Cat, to be the completion of a trilogy -- one that began more than 20 years ago with The Nightfly and continued a decade or so later on Kamakiriad. That assessment makes sense on first listen, thanks in large part to the disc's cool, jazzy grooves, but it


Donald Fagen has said that he considers his much-anticipated third solo album, Morph the Cat, to be the completion of a trilogy -- one that began more than 20 years ago with The Nightfly and continued a decade or so later on Kamakiriad. That assessment makes sense on first listen, thanks in large part to the disc's cool, jazzy grooves, but it really sinks in once the dark -- sometimes ironic, sometimes simply twisted -- impact of Fagen's allegories kick in. Morph the Cat is drenched in the imagery of death, a specter that hovers over the protagonist of "The Night Belongs to Mona" (a suicide waiting to happen) as well as the band that meet their ultimate demise in the angular "H Gang." And while Fagen doesn't underscore the thematic darkness with quite enough in the way of prickly sonics, it is a pleasure to hear his band kick things into high gear -- with some surprisingly heated guitar and harmonica riffing -- on "What I Do," an imagined conversation with the ghost of Ray Charles. But if most of Morph the Cat's edges are more buffed than frayed -- and on songs like the buttery "Pagoda of Funn," that's definitely the case -- remember that Brother Ray himself was quite comfortable wrapped in similar fabrics. And who'd dare argue with that?

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
There are no surprises in sound and style on Morph the Cat, Donald Fagen's long-awaited third solo album, nor should any be expected -- ever since Steely Dan's 1980 masterwork, Gaucho, his work, either on his own or with longtime collaborator Walter Becker, has been of a piece. Each record has been sleek, sophisticated, and immaculately produced, meticulously recorded and arranged, heavy on groove and mood, which tends to mask the sly wit of the songs. When it works well -- as it did on Fagen's peerless 1982 solo debut, The Nightfly, or on Steely Dan's 2001 comeback, Two Against Nature -- the results go down smoothly upon first listen and reveal their complexity with each spin; when it doesn't quite succeed -- both 1993's Kamakiriad and the Dan's 2003 effort Everything Must Go didn't quite gel -- the albums sound good but samey on the surface and don't quite resonate. Morph the Cat belongs in the first group: at first it sounds cozily familiar, almost too familiar, but it digs deep, both as music and song. Sonically, at least superficially, it is very much a continuation of the two Steely Dan records of the new millennium -- not only does it share Fagen's aesthetic, but it was recorded with many of the same musicians who have shown up on the Dan projects. There are slight differences -- without Becker around, there's a greater emphasis on keyboards and the songs stretch on a bit longer than anything on Everything Must Go -- but this, at least on pure sonics, could have functioned as a sequel to Two Against Nature. But Morph the Cat is very much a solo affair, fitting comfortably next to his first two solo albums as a conclusion to what he calls a trilogy. If The Nightfly concerned the past and Kamakiriad was set in a hazy future, Morph the Cat is rooted in the present, teeming with the fears and insecurities of post-9/11 America. Fagen doesn't camouflage his intent with the gleefully enigmatic rhymes that have been his trademark: his words, while still knowingly sardonic, are direct, and in case you don't want to bother reading the lyrics or listening closely, he helpfully offers brief explanations of the songs (for instance, on "Mary Shut the Garden Door," he writes "Paranoia blooms when a thuggish cult gains control of the government," a statement that's not exactly veiled). On top of this unease, Fagen faces mortality throughout the album -- he talks with the ghost of Ray Charles, borrows W.C. Fields' phrase for death for "Brite Nitegown," writes about attempted suicides -- and every song seems to be about things drawing to a close. It's a little disarming to hear Fagen talk so bluntly -- although he came close to doing so on the deliberately nostalgic The Nightfly, the fact that he was writing about the past kept him at a bit of a distance -- but despite the abundance of morbid themes, Morph the Cat never sounds dour or depressing. In large part this is due to Fagen's viewpoint -- he never succumbs to mawkishness, always preferring to keep things witty and sardonic, which helps keep things from getting too heavy -- but it's also due to his smooth jazz-rock, which always sounds nimble and light. This, of course, is how Fagen's music always sounds, but here, it not only functions as a counterpoint to the darkness creeping on the edges of the album, but it's executed expertly: as spotless as this production is, it never sounds sterile, and when the songs start stretching past the five-minute mark -- two cuts are over seven minutes -- it never gets boring, because there's a genuine warmth to the clean, easy groove. More so than on Kamakiriad, or on the tight Everything Must Go, there is a sense of genuine band interplay on this record, which helps give it both consistency and heart -- something appropriate for an album that is Fagen's most personal song cycle since The Nightfly, and quite possibly his best album since then.

Product Details

Release Date:
Reprise / Wea

Related Subjects


Album Credits

Performance Credits

Donald Fagen   Primary Artist,Organ,Piano,Vocals,Background Vocals,Melodica,fender rhodes,Soloist
Wayne Krantz   Guitar,Soloist
Marvin Stamm   Trumpet,Soloist
Walt Weiskopf   Alto Saxophone,Tenor Saxophone,Soloist
Jerry Barnes   Background Vocals
Bashiri Johnson   Percussion
Lawrence Feldman   Clarinet,Flute,Tenor Saxophone
Gordon Gottlieb   Percussion,Background Vocals
Jon Herington   Guitar,Soloist
Howard Levy   Harmonica,Soloist
Hugh McCracken   Guitar
Cindy Mizelle   Background Vocals
Joe Passaro   Percussion
Roger Rosenberg   Bass Clarinet,Baritone Saxophone
Frank Vignola   Guitar,Soloist
Ted Baker   Piano,fender rhodes
Art Smith   Drums
Ken Emerson   Guitar
Freddie "Ready Freddie" Washington   Bass Guitar
Carolyn Leonhart   Background Vocals
Keith Carlock   Drums
Ken Wessel   Guitar,Soloist
Amy Helm   Background Vocals
Illinois Elohainu   Flute
Jennifer Battista   Clappers
Eddie Jackson   Clappers
Camille Meza   Clappers
Harlan Post   Acoustic Bass
Candice Predham   Clappers
Phonus Quaver   Marimbas,Vibes
Tedd Baker   fender rhodes
Mark Patterson   Trombone

Technical Credits

Donald Fagen   Producer,Audio Production
Irving Azoff   Management
Art Smith   Guitar Techician
Jeri Heiden   Art Direction
Brian Montgomery   overdub engineer,Pro-Tools
TJ Doherty   overdub engineer,Pro-Tools

Customer Reviews

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Morph the Cat 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a return to form. I was really afraid that Donald had fully lost it, as I didn't enjoy Kamakiriad much at all, and the 2 new Dans weren't so great. But this album is just SO good. I love the post-9/11 perspective of the songs, makes it very current (dating it perhaps) and meaningful, as a NYer myself. It also includes the first touching lyric ever from an SD-type song -- ie Great Pagoda of Funn (strange title) which describes a couple whose only protection from the fears of modern life is their love. title tune is very cool, Donald has finally regained his knack for melody, and the jazzy harmonies are in full force. Walter Becker is nowhere to be found, but the guitar solos all evoke deep familiarity with the Dan guitar style
Guest More than 1 year ago
Known for that Jazz/Rock sound of the late 60's and 70's Donald Fagen, (half of Steely Dan), whether with his counterpart(Walter Becker),or not, has proven that there's no stopping him when it comes to creating truely great music. It seems he's never lost his touch, yet he manages to keep his sound fresh. 4 1/2 stars
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is easily one of the best and cleanest albums I have heard in a while. Although death (or the closeness thereof) is an undelying string through the songs, it seems to keep its distance behind the music. The style of tunes range from jumpy jazz ("Morph The Cat","Brite Nitegown") to underindulged romance (the beautiful and slighly haunting "Greta Pagoda Of Funn") to bluesy intonations ("What I Do"). He channels "Gaucho" for use in "H Gang",which was releaesd as the first single clearly for the fact that is DOES sound Steely Dan-ish.However he saves his best work for "Security Joan" (only DF can make a airport security checkout sound sexy and tittilating) and on the wondrous "The Night Belongs To Mona" (find the 9-11 reference) and the introspcetive "Mary Shut The Garden Door" (an not-so-obvious Republican bash) that was written about the time the convention came to NYC. If you are new to the Dan or any of his solo work, you may get a kick out of this after listening to it 2 or 3 times. For the seasoned vet, this is a nice fit to the trilogy he has been working on for 23 years,fitting somewhere between "The Nightfly" and "Kamakrirad" in a yes-it-goes-just-here location. A Grammy nominee for sure for: Best Album Record Of the Year : Either "Mary" or "Mona" Best Edtitng Best Engineering p.s. if you can get this with the DVD included,by all means do. This disc begs to be played at 5.1 dolby with surround sound.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you don't own "Night fly" or "Kamakiriad" then get them first. If you liked those albums you'll like this one. The first two are stronger in comparison but that doesn't mean this album is weak. It's very good. At worst it suffers from "sequel-itis" (i.e. I've heard this before!)
Guest More than 1 year ago
Continuing his themes from the Nightfly (1982) Fagen still mesmerizes listeners two decades later. "H Gang" and "Mona" are each a thing of beauty. The rest of the album is nearly as good.
mosaic_heart More than 1 year ago
The title and matching song appears to be a subtle homage to Carl Sandburg's "Fog." Once again Donald Fagen invites us to peek at a cast of quirky characters through his clever lyrics. A prime example is "Security Joan" who really knows how to work overtime! The recording has many of the terrific touring and studio musicians that perform with Steely Dan, his band with partner, Walter Becker. The tight group of bandmates keep the sophisticated, smooth, funky, jazz, and rock grooves intact for his solo and Steely Dan fans. "What I Do" expresses Ray Charles' probable candor if asked about his prowess with the ladies. A nice tribue to the late Mr. Charles. Mr. Fagen's solo trilogy is a wonderful set to own. Don't leave any of the three out. I love this "cat" from NYC!