The Royal Scam
's diminished melodicism and jagged playing make it the least accessible Steely Dan album. It's occasionally written off as a low point in the band's discography, but in truth it's not that radically different from Katy Lied
The difference was that Becker and Fagen had steadily grown more cynical and sarcastic with every album, and The Royal Scam
is where their negativity explodes. And this time, the nastiness isn't counter-balanced by moments of warmth as on previous albums - instead, the tone here is relentlessly cold, dirty, and brutal.
The title track traces the rise and fall of a pair of Puerto Rican drug smugglers who emigrate to New York, the track's thudding bassline the pulse of a thousand future hip-hop groups; a book-keeper's son on the run holes himself up with dynamite in "Don't Take Me Alive"; a couple make a run for a quickie "Haitian Divorce" in what is a light reggae number; and the con-artist 'holy man' of "The Fez" is Jewish this time round.
The nastiest song however is "Everything You Did", in which a cuckold harasses and threatens his adulterous lover with murderous intensity, and at the end forces her to do with him all the 'dirty' things she'd done with the other man. Only the childhood fantasies of "The Caves of Altimira" offers any relief.
Whilst The Royal Scam
is certainly not the place to begin investigating Steely Dan, its obsessive cynicism makes it an intriguing album.Rated:
by Reviewer: Creative Noise
(blogging at Creative Noise
)13th September 2017