9 Songs, 41 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

With its pairing of venomous lyrics to enthralling grooves, The Royal Scam contains some of the most potent work of Steely Dan’s career. The album begins with “Kid Charlemagne,” in which Donald Fagen addresses a fallen idol: “Now your patrons have all left you in the red / Your low-rent friends are dead / This life can be very strange / All those DayGlo freaks who used to paint the face / They've joined the human race… You are obsolete / Look at all the white men on the street.” (Fagen later revealed the song was about LSD guru Owsley Stanley.) The title track is a scathing, impressionistic vision of America’s settlement: the lyrics are at once funny and frightening, and the music is sublime. In a perfect paradoxical formula, “The Caves of Altamira,” “Sign in Stranger,” and “Haitian Divorce” mine rhythms that are relaxed yet fiercely precise. The Royal Scam is a complex work but its depth is almost always implied rather than expository. Ironically, for such a wordy album, its most essential song might be “The Fez,” which features Fagen simply repeating a single phrase over a cyclical rhythm.

EDITORS’ NOTES

With its pairing of venomous lyrics to enthralling grooves, The Royal Scam contains some of the most potent work of Steely Dan’s career. The album begins with “Kid Charlemagne,” in which Donald Fagen addresses a fallen idol: “Now your patrons have all left you in the red / Your low-rent friends are dead / This life can be very strange / All those DayGlo freaks who used to paint the face / They've joined the human race… You are obsolete / Look at all the white men on the street.” (Fagen later revealed the song was about LSD guru Owsley Stanley.) The title track is a scathing, impressionistic vision of America’s settlement: the lyrics are at once funny and frightening, and the music is sublime. In a perfect paradoxical formula, “The Caves of Altamira,” “Sign in Stranger,” and “Haitian Divorce” mine rhythms that are relaxed yet fiercely precise. The Royal Scam is a complex work but its depth is almost always implied rather than expository. Ironically, for such a wordy album, its most essential song might be “The Fez,” which features Fagen simply repeating a single phrase over a cyclical rhythm.

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