Critics then and now have hailed The Nightfly for its careful use of digital technology, presenting it as a solid defense in the re-emergence of analog among snobs. It’s also something of a concept album, and even though its sound doesn’t really fit the thoughts of a not-yet-adult suburban kid on the verge of the Kennedy administration, the songs are good; the hopeful, forward-thinking tone of “I.G.Y.”, predicting a future resembling that of The Jetsons, fits with the modern sound. “Green Flower Street” is a jazzy blues about an interracial romance, a set up for a slick version of the Lieber-Stoller R&B classic “Ruby Baby”. That song was once covered by the Beach Boys, and it’s hard not to hear echoes of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” in “Maxine”. Somebody should do a new arrangement of this song that uses only the piano as heard on the intro, but still using the intricate one-man harmonies.
“New Frontier” continues the seduction motif; this time the narrator’s trying to drag his quarry down to his bomb shelter with promises of Dave Brubeck records. That’s likely part of the playlists dear to the narrator of the title track, vividly depicted on the album cover. This is probably the least successful segment of the album, if only because the music conjures less the sound of free-form radio than the Teflon-coated version of jazz perpetuated from the mid- to late ‘80s and afterwards by GRP Records and stations who wished they’d been the first to apply for the call letters WJAZ (proximity to Mount Belzoni notwithstanding). The old Dan version of island music returns on “The Goodbye Look”, which may or may not take place in recently “liberated” Cuba. He must have made it out in time, because we leave him hoping for romance in the jaunty “Walk Between Raindrops”.
Just as nothing was heard from the entity known as Steely Dan for some time, so was The Nightfly Donald Fagen’s only solo statement for several years, save the occasional soundtrack contribution. Still, it made for a nice wrap-up to the catalog, ending their era as the reigning sultans of sarcasm. Unless sardony is a real word, which it isn’t.
Donald Fagen The Nightfly (1982)—3½