The Royal Scam

Steely Dan

MCA, 1976

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


One of Steely Dan's underrated skills is their ability to present downtrodden characters, those lost souls in dimly-lit bars, making shady deals, wondering where life took a turn. Weary, cynical, bordering on hopeless...yet you feel empathy for the character. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

None of their songs sums this up better than "Kid Charlemagne," the opener to the brooding The Royal Scam. An urgency missing from Steely Dan's previous two albums has returned, not just in the fantastic guitar solo but in the brisk tempo and urgency of the mood. The story concerns a lost soul - drug dealer? hippie? you or me? - with lines like "All those Day-Glo freaks who used to paint their face / They've joined the human race / Some things will never change / Son, you were mistaken / You are obsolete."

Steely Dan could be funny, aloof, menacing and of course cynical, but they never managed to be all four until this album. The album is full of loneliness and heartache, from the relationship sweet-to-sour story of "Haitian Divorce" to the self-reflection of "Don't Take Me Alive" with the line "Here in this darkness / I know what I've done / I know all at once who I am."

Like any good Dan album, there are plenty of jazz phrasings, female vocal harmonies and smooth production flourishes, but this time there is a little more soul behind the flash. Even the jaunty "The Fez," a trite and meaningless number lyrically, is enhanced by ominous keyboard work, while "Green Earrings" is downright peppy, hearkening back to Can't Buy A Thrill. "Sign In Stranger" successfully channels a nightclub after midnight, with a cocktail, staring down at the floor.

This disc would be overshadowed by Aja one year later, but it doesn't deserve that fate, as it is among the best releases of Steely Dan's career.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A-


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