Resonant Emotion in Fagen’s Latest

By Richard Cromelin
Los Angeles Times

Donald Fagen

The Steely Dan signatures are all in place: jazz chords and female choruses, horn-section sighs and light-funk grooves, lush atmospheres and a sound of amazing presence.

But Kamakiriad isn’t just an Aja minor. For the first time, Fagen instills his music with full emotional openness, and, without the old ironic knots to be negotiated, the prevailing tones of ache and longing have more dimension and resonance. Similarly, Fagen’s singing has acquired a dynamic command that allows him to animate his hipster syntax with an energized swing, adding new levels of expressive nuance.

The album’s story line — a journey in the super-car that gives the record its name — is corny in a fond, knowing way, and it’s an efficient device to generate narrative movement. The songs are sort of stations of the cross in this futuristic landscape, which with a flip of the metaphorical switch becomes an internal exploration.

It can be funny and touching, but it adds up to a pretty hard-bitten confrontation with self, making the climactic transformation — redemption symbolized by the Jazz Way of Life, in the best Steely Dan tradition — all the richer.

*** 1/2 (New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).)

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