|Morph the Cat
DVD-Audio Mix ••••
Like John Updike in his series of novels about the life and times of Rabbit Angstrom, Steely Dan's Donald Fagen ponders the zeitgeist every decade or so with a solo album. Morph the Cat is the third of these, and - following a natural progression - it's an urbane series of songs from a simultaneously bemused, alarmed, and deflated observer. "What I Do," a paean to Ray Charles, recalls Aja's "Deacon Blues" in its respectful saluting of the musician's life and lot. "The Great Pagoda of Funn" hails marriage (or at least committed coupling) as a sanctuary from the world's madness. And "Security Joan" is a tale of lust intertwined with airport security - a bit of gallows humor in these post-9/11 times. Throughout, Fagen's ensemble cooks over a jazzy simmer. The album may seem too understated, but beneath its even-tempered surface are playful grooves and a keen wit.
The best way to hear engineer Elliot Scheiner's pristine recording is via his surround mix on the CD+DVD-Audio edition. His subtle sorcery puts horns, background vocals, and breezy guitars in the center and surround channels while letting the primary music flow from the left and right fronts. You'll occasionally be startled by an effect - a wash of percussion circling the room here and there, or the tactile marimba that jabs at you from all corners on "Brite Nitegown" - but the mix mostly reflects the artist's temperament: exacting, self-contained, and adult.
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