Thursday, 29 August 2019

Steely Dan - The Royal Scam (1976)

Babs and Clean Willie were in love they said....

  

Released on 31 May 1976

Running time 41.11

Along with 1974's Katy Lied, this album is sometimes overlooked as being the other one between Pretzel Logic and Aja. This is a bit of a shame as it is an impressive album. One thing that is clear is that after the lightly harsh, tinny sound of Katy Lied, there is a velvety, deep, warm sound to this, which is nice to hear. You can hear the difference immediately. As with its predecessor, I prefer it to Pretzel Logic, by far. I have never gone along with the hype of Pretzel Logic, actually, it is my least favourite Dan album, albeit one in exceptionally high quality company. For me, this one blows it away, easily.

What we have here is another album of captivating songs, full of hooks, almost perfect instrumentation and those serious-sounding, but often tongue-in-cheek lyrics. It is classic Steely Dan. Don't let anyone put it down.

TRACK LISTING

1. Kid Charlemagne
2. The Caves Of Altamira
3. Don't Take Me Alive
4. Sign In Stranger
5. The Fez
6. Green Earrings
7. Haitian Divorce
8. Everything You Did
9. The Royal Scam                                            

Kid Charlemagne is a sumptuous slice of slightly funky rock, full of big heavy bass, infectious, jazzy piano, syncopated drums and the familiar indecipherable Steely Dan lyrics. It also features a superb guitar solo from guest guitarist Larry Carlton.

The Caves Of Altamira is a beautifully laid-back but still powerful jazz rock number. It has a great saxophone solo in it. A solid, driving bass powers the atmospheric, graceful rock of Don't Take Me Alive.

Sign In Stranger is an intoxicating, slow, grinding number full of odd lyrics and superb instrumentation. The piano solo is top class, as indeed is the whole track. There have some some critics who have said this album contains no classic Steely Dan tracks on it. I would dispute that - it is pretty much all really high quality, containing innovative, inventive songs as we have come to expect.

The Fez has an addictive, funky guitar line driving it along and some mysterious Eastern-sounding organ breaks. It almost sounds like Euro-disco in places.

Green Earrings is another piece of perfectly funky, jazzy soul that drifts along effortessly. The drums are excellent, as is the guitar. The material on here is some of the group's funkiest stuff thus far. I read somewhere someone describe their music as "funky, edgy playfulness". I couldn't have put it better myself. It is difficult to find phrases to describe Steely Dan's output, this is an excellent one.

The quality continues on the reggae/funk of the magnificent Haitian Divorce. Check out that wah-wah guitar. This was a hit single and rightly so. I remember a friend playing it to me back in 1976 and being blow away.

Everything You Did is a grandiose bit of muscular jazz rock containing a lyrical tease for The Eagles that they returned on Hotel California - all very amicable. The Royal Scam is an impressive six minute plus slow burner of a track to conclude this sometimes overlooked album. Personally, I don't think there is a bad track on it.

B+

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