Morph the Cat is the third solo release from Steely Dan co-leader Donald Fagen, completing a de facto trilogy with 1982's The Nightfly and 1993's Kamakiriad. The first volume was a nostalgic, if somewhat skewed, look backward at the America of Fagen's youth, while the second was a science fiction parable of the near future. Though there are various fantastic apparitions that make their appearances in Morph the Cat on the whole the disc is a pretty clear (not to say steely-eyed) look at contemporary life, including Fagen's own personal one as well as the wider reality that we all share.
The production features the meticulous attention to detail that we have come to expect from Fagen over the last four decades. The recording itself is impeccably clean, the songs well-crafted, the lyrics clever and considered. The musicians are top-notch, including guitarist Hugh McCracken, reedman Walt Weiskopf and, of course, Fagen himself at vocals and keyboards.
The album is bookended by the theme of "Morph the Cat." Morph is a vaporous entity that traverses the New York skyline, framing the seven remaining tracks and occasionally "stopping for a latte." Somewhat more tangible is the ghost of Ray Charles, who reveals the secrets of his genius on "What I Do." No less formidable a figure than Death himself shows up in the funky series of vignettes that make up "Brite Nightgown." Still, some earthly concerns naturally remain; "Security Joan" is a humorous blues about sex and Homeland Security, the sort of song that was just waiting to be written.
Morph the Cat, out March 14th on Reprise Records, should appeal to longtime fans of Donald Fagen and Steely Dan with its characteristic mix of humor, insight and chops. Amazingly, the once stage-shy Fagan will be taking the album on the road in the U.S and Canada for eighteen dates next month. A rare opportunity to see Donald Fagen (if not Morph) in the flesh.