DONALD FAGEN Kamakiriad (Reprise)
At last, a long-awaited album worthy of the description: it's been over a decade since Fagen's wonderful debut album "The Nightfly", and he's not only finally got round to making the "difficult second album", he's done so with the other half of Steely Dan, Walter Becker, in tow, who produces, plays bass and even co-writes one track, which makes a) this the nearest thing to a Steely Dan album since 1980's "Gaucho" and b) all the rumours of a Steely Dan tour/reunion later in the year seem almost plausible.
But, is it any good? Course it is. Despite this only being his second album, Fagen has an instantly identifiable style, he's virtually the only operator in the domain of intelligent yet caustic AOR. Just as you'd recognise a Van Morrison album within the first few bars (of which more elsewhere), "Kamakiriad" oozes the same kind of familiarity, and no, it's not because all the songs sound the same. Well, not just that, anyway.
By way of an explanation, Fagen states, "Kamakiriad is an album of eight related songs. The literal action takes place a few years in the future, near the millennium...the narrator tells us he is about to embark on a journey in his new dream car, a custom-tooled Kamakiri...steam driven, with a self contained vegetable garden". Concept album? Well, sort of. It's no "Topographic Oceans" (hurrah!), but the thematic link between songs is a bit stronger than on "The Nightfly", but not intrusively so.
The songs themselves (mustn't forget them) do seem similar at first, both to themselves and Fagen's previous solo output: "Trans-Island Skyway", for example, is uncomfortably close to 82's "I.G.Y.", but here familiarity breeds contentment. Little touches like the way the music to "Snowbound", a Becker/Fagen composition of unimpeachable quality, seems to begin and end without actually starting or stopping; the aching desolation of "On The Dunes" which I originally mistook for aimless jazz noodling; the depth of ideas expressed in the lyrics, for example "Countermoon", which proposes the theory (allegedly; I copped this from the Paul Gambaccini interview on Radio 1) that a countermoon exists which shines countermoonbeams with the ability to destroy romance (deep, yes?).
Musically, if "The Nightfly" is sorta like "Countdown To Ecstasy"-ish, this is pure "Aja", but yet better, and although Walter Becker's production isn't as drop-dead gorgeous as Gary Katz fashioned on "The Nightfly" it's certainly better than almost everything else I've heard since. Buy and enjoy, and if you're not sure you will try to hear the single, (a worryingly commercial development), "Tomorrow's Girls", first. And then buy and enjoy.