A portrait of the artist as a young man, The Nightfly is a wonderfully evocative reminiscence of Kennedy-era American life; in the liner notes, Donald Fagen describes the songs as representative of the kinds of fantasies he entertained as an adolescent during the late '50s/early '60s, and he conveys the tenor of the times with some of his most personal and least obtuse material to date. Continuing in the smooth pop-jazz mode favored on the final Steely Dan records, The Nightfly is lush and shimmering, produced with cinematic flair by Gary Katz; romanticized but never sentimental, the songs are slices of suburbanite soap opera, tales of space-age hopes (the hit "I.G.Y.") and Cold War fears (the wonderful "The New Frontier," a memoir of fallout-shelter love) crafted with impeccable style and sophistication.
It's not surprising that Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker's debut solo album sounds like a Steely Dan record. What is a little surprising, though, is that, in his lead singing debut, he sounds so much like his erstwhile partner, Donald Fagen. Not that you'd mistake the two (Fagen projects more and is slightly grittier), but they sing in the same register with the same sly phrasing and the same accent. Other differences from the Dan are equally subtle: Becker adopts a sparer musical approach, for one thing, the missing element being the prominence of Fagen's keyboards (although Fagen does play on the record and co-produced it). Nothing gets in the way of Becker's voice, and he proves to be a less ornate lyricist than Fagen, restricting himself largely to tales of romantic dislocation. On the whole, this album sounds like what you'd expect – one half of Steely Dan.
Released to Top Ten success in the Netherlands, Collected is a triple-disc compilation of Steely Dan highlights from 1972 to 1980. It's not technically a greatest-hits collection because Steely Dan never scored many hit singles (for instance, only three of their singles ever reached the Top Ten in the U.S.), yet all of the 47 tracks compiled here are great, starting with the band's 1972 breakout hit "Do It Again."
Notorious for shunning concert performances, Steely Dan's improbable live reunion in the mid-'90s eventually turned into a full-fledged reunion album. Since Steely Dan fans went two decades without even the hope of a new record, the very prospect was a delight, but it was also a little worrying, since a botched comeback would tarnish the band's legacy. Fortunately, Two Against Nature is as seductive and alluring as the best of Steely Dan's later work, with a similar emphasis on classy atmosphere and groove.