One of the first fully digitally recorded albums finds the front half of Steely Dan exploring similar territory albeit without Walter Becker. Backed by a lengthy list of popular studio musicians (Michael & Randy Brecker, Larry Carlton, Rick Derringer, Anthony Jackson (the inventor of the six string bass-guitar), Marcus Miller, Paul Schaffer, Roger Nichols (inventor of digital drum replacement made popular on Gaucho), Chuck Rainey, and many more) and produced by perennial Steely Dan producer Gary Katz, Fagen explains in the liner notes the album being about:
"certain fantasies that might have been entertained by a young man growing up in the remote suburbs of a northeastern city during the late fifties and early sixties, i.e., one of my general height, weight and build."
The music itself is considerably similar to Gaucho (the Nightfly coming only two years later), going as far as to reuse passing sections from songs cut from Gaucho ("The Goodbye Look" has a part directly from the "Second Arrangement"). The biggest difference is finding a laid back Fagen producing dense pop songs in lue of the heavily jazz influenced Dan-work just prior. The sardonicism commonly associated with his lyrics are replaced by an exhausted, mellower delivery. With production work comparable to Thriller, The Nightfly is a popular album for testing stereo monitors due to it's deft use of early digital recording equipment.
The highlight of this record is the track is the second single "New Frontier". It finds an aging Fagen confused over contemporary shifts in culture over a delightfully dicey keyboard.
" Well I can't wait 'til I move to the city
'Til I finally make up my mind
To learn design and study overseas
Have you got a steady boyfriend
Cause honey I've been watching you
I hear you're mad about Brubeck
I like your eyes, I like him too
He's an artist, a pioneer
We've got to have some music on the new frontier"
Beyond this finds Donald covering Leiber & Stoller's Drifter's hit "Ruby Baby" with a groove quite similar to that of "The Way You Make Me Feel" by Michael Jackson. "Green Flower Street" relies on themes taken from "Green Earrings" from Steely Dan's The Royal Scam. Many of the songs on this record could be described as throw away Dan songs but definitely worth the listen for people with an already vested interest in Steely Dan.
-----DONALD FAGEN THE NIGHTFLY