For years I rarely played this fifth Steely Dan album, believing it to be a lesser work than their others. How wrong can a man be!
There is such a wealth of textures, sounds (dig that organ on The Fez) and angular, glorious guitar solos on these nine tracks that this is, I now realise, a Dan record that stands out from the rest. Ironically, my least favourite track is probably their big hit Haitian Divorce.
One highlight. I`ve seldom heard Donald Fagen sing with such abrasive force as on the marvellous Don`t Take Me Alive, with its ominous lyrics:
Or maybe you would like to see the show
You`ll enjoy the Cafe D`Escargot
Folks are in a line around the block
Just to see her do the can-can Jacques
Becker and Fagen regularly wrote lyrics as enigmatically picaresque as Dylan or Waits. Theirs is a skewed, sardonic view of contemporary America. Coupled with a sophisticated jazz sensibility, they made, and continue occasionally to make, music that`s unique in the `pop` canon of the last forty years.
The final number is the jumpy, mildly unsettling six-and-a-half-minute title track, and it`s a truly great song on an album of great songs.
They`d lost Jeff "Skunk" Baxter`s incredible guitar acrobatics after Pretzel Logic, but Becker is no mean guitarist himself - in fact he`s a terrific musician - and they`ve also called on Larry Carlton, Denny Dias and others to carry out guitar duties, along with other hand-picked players who help put this album up there with their best.
The more I play The Royal Scam - and I seem to play the Dan all the time these days - the more I love it. Their music is as varied and musically rich as the most inventive jazz or certain modern classical works. That`s how good this `moveable feast` of a band were.
The Dan were never really a rock band, they simply made timeless music, memorable songs played with lavish attention to detail. This is one of the most subtle sets of songs in their illustrious catalogue.
They did it again - and Aja and Gaucho were still to come!
Won`t you sign in stranger?