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- Posted on Oct 22nd 2012 4:30PM by Eric R. Danton
The album is Fagen's first solo release since Morph the Cat in 2006, which was the last entry in a narrative cycle stretching back to The Nightfly, Fagen's 1982 solo debut. Sunken Condos, he says, represents a deliberate break from the semi-autobiographical Nightfly trilogy.
"I'm glad to be done with it, too. It got to be a little oppressive, psychologically speaking," he says. "It imposed certain strictures on what I could write about, what I could do. I felt that I had to do that because I felt I was compelled to finish that cycle. This kind of freed me up to write about different things, although in a way, writing without Walter, I tend to write about my own journey anyway."
Walter, of course, is Walter Becker, Fagen's partner in Steely Dan. When the two write together, each works on different parts of songs in progress. Writing by himself, Fagen says, is an attempt to impose order and structure on a process that remains as mysterious now as ever.
"You're dependent on the ideas that come to you from I know not where," he says. "It's certainly not arbitrary, but I can't really control it."
The jazzy pop songs on Sunken Condos took shape over the past few years, in between commitments with Steely Dan and Fagen's other group, the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald -- a collaboration Fagen says is "pure fun."
Fagen wrote the songs for Sunken Condos on piano, made demos on his computer in GarageBand and teamed with co-producer Michael Leonhart to flesh out the arrangements on eight new songs and a cover of Isaac Hayes' "Out of the Ghetto" that completely redefines the context of the tune.
"I was interested in the word 'ghetto,' because it had been used so long to connect with the inner city, and I guess I wanted to recapture it for the Jews," Fagen says. "I thought it would be funny, be humorous, although it's kind of ambiguous until the later part of the record, because you don't really get the kind of klezmer aspect of it until late in the record. It's supposed to dawn on you as the track goes on that this isn't about the Bronx."
About his own songs, the ones musing on aging and death, Fagen is philosophical. "When you're in your 60s, you start having to face certain realities," he says.
He continues, in the driest possible tone: "Luckily, I have a buoyant sense of humor, and without that you're dead, you know? I would just be writing dirges like Bob Dylan has resorted to without the sense of humor. He keeps writing these songs with this one minor chord, and it's like, 'Poor dude. I feel sorry for him.'"