Rolling Stones Magazine cleverly point out that The Royal Scam’s tracks, with the exception of ‘The Fez’, concern escape from some recently committed crime or other. The subject of outlaws drug dealers and cheaters is rich for exploration and Steely Dan do so immaculately. This was one of the most enjoyable albums of the month to date. The sheer variety and innovative sound which expanded on an already great roster of albums (this being their fifth) created something truly special.
But the Dan’s outlaws are also moral ones, guilt-ridden over comparatively minor sins. (Last time out, remember, Katy’s chief offense was that she lied, after all.) “Kid Charlemagne” is a selfish egotist, and suffers for it; “The Fez,” a sort of Dan-esque answer to Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” concerns a rather pathetic, if kinky, megalomaniac. At their best, these songs yield up concise surrealist introspection; at their worst, they suggest a paranoic death wish that is very amusing, if a bit unnerving. Rolling Stones
To keep you enthralled, I shall not write a song by song guide to this album. Instead I shall tell you about the ones I enjoyed most. Kid Charlemagne kicks off the album in style. It is my understanding that the track was written with Owsley Stanley, an acclaimed LSD maker in the 60s, in mind. This is shown in the exceptional guitar solo. As with most of the tracks on this album, the guitar leads and the other instruments follow.
All of the songs were written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, who remade Steely Dan as a duo when they dropped the five-piece lineup of previous albums. Acclaimed session players like guitarist Larry Carlton and Chuck Rainey on bass contributed to many of the tracks. Ultimate Classic Rock
Haitian Divorce is an excellent track. Of course it covers the subject of an acrimonious divorce. This is yet another example of how the tracks on this album are constructed around the lead guitar. The excellent lyricism is not lost on me here. There is wonderful talk of defiance and preparation to fight which speaks to the nature of violent divorces, of which I am an expert, clearly.
Finally, I would have to say Everything You Did and Sign In Stranger are the highlights for me. The former is about a woman cheating on the protagonist. The latter features pianist Paul Griffin going on one of my favourite piano solos of any pop song:
On “Sign In Stranger,” as on that song, his touch even as he’s running his right hand rapidly across the keys is deft and light. Always keen on riding the hot hand, Becker and Fagen gave him a piano solo that was essentially just a continuation of the busy comping he was doing throughout the entire song. Something Else Reviews
All together, this is a wonderfully structured, cohesive and impactful album which merits more praise than it received at the time. Donald Fagan explains this being borne from the fact The Royal Scam was their fifth album and critics like albums less and less as the band succeeds. I hold this in very high esteem and hope you shall enjoy it as much as I do.