The Royal Scam

Steely Dan

MCA, 1976

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If Katy Lied, Steely Dan's fourth effort, represented a step in the right direction for Walter Becker, Donald Fagen and their "hired guns," then The Royal Scam, their fifth release, signified a leap backward.

Despite the presence of one or two solid tracks on the album, The Royal Scam is easily the weakest and most boring effort to date in Steely Dan's catalog. The fact that no songs leap out from the track listing as being oversaturated on commercial radio made me wonder what was up with this disc.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In a way, it sometimes feels like Becker and Fagen set out to record a disc that was not meant to be for the "singles" market, but rather put out music on their terms. In that regard, mission accomplished -- but at what cost?

True, songs like "Kid Charlemagne" and "Sign In Stranger" have some of the excitement that other classic Steely Dan songs have exhibited throughout the band's history. ("Sign In Stranger" counts in my book as a track just awaiting re-discovery.) Even so, there is something different about the feel of these songs, but not enough of a change to make them unable to be enjoyed.

Regrettably, these two tracks make up the strongest pillars on The Royal Scam. The remainder of the disc's nine tracks range from passable filler ("The Royal Scam") to moments where the listener has to wonder what on God's earth the boys were thinking of ("The Fez" -- a track that smacks of repetitiveness).

In retrospect, it does seem that Steely Dan tried to make an album that was intentionally non-commercial, but in doing so, the boys lost their focus on what they do well. Tracks like "Haitian Divorce," "Everything You Did" and "The Caves Of Altamira" could have been substantial marks in the band's catalog had there been a little more re-working of these tracks. Instead, they have the sound and feel of filler that does little to challenge the listener -- or the band, for that matter.

It would be wrong to suggest that The Royal Scam is an album whose title is appropriate to the content; indeed, there are a handful of tracks that are well worth the listener's attention. But maybe a better title would have been "The Big Yawn."

Rating: C

User Rating: A-



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