Finding love in an airport security line, a ghostly feline hovering above New York and imaginary conversations with the late Ray Charles are not usual topics addressed in rock’n’roll. But they are in the alternate musical universe of Steely Dan principal Donald Fagen, whose third album, “Morph the Cat,” arrives this week via Reprise/Warner Bros.
This is Fagen’s first solo effort since 1993’s “Kamakiriad,” and his first away from his main band since Steely Dan broke a 20-year hiatus from the studio with 2000’s Grammy Award-winning “Two Against Nature.”
For more than 30 years, Steely Dan’s music has been synonymous with a disconnect between the mood it conveys and what its lyrics actually mean. And while a number of tunes on “Morph” offer the usual blend of smooth sounds and sarcastic sentiments, others strike a more unified chord, touching on such personal subjects as death, love and mortality.
“Sept. 11 on a global scale and my mother dying on a personal level were the two major things that got me thinking about all of this,” the 58-year-old Fagen says. Tying it all together is the title track, different versions of which bookend the album.
“I was walking along one day and had this image of a phantom cat looking into people’s windows,” Fagen recalls of the “Morph” concept. “It’s a terrifying image, but at the same time, there’s something nice about the cat too. On the surface, it’s something that would make you feel really good, but there is something sinister about it as well.”