Walter Becker Pete Matthews - Essay

Pete Matthews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Royal Scam] has wormed its way into my subconscious far faster than its slightly less sharply focused precursor, Katy Lied….

Most so-called artists working in rock are reduced to self-parody after five albums, but [Becker and Fagen] refine and develop their terminally depressive vision like the true masters they are. The melodies are sharper than ever on this collection, and the lyrics somehow more direct. I've never supported the notion that they were deliberately misleading in the past, because their sub-obsession with the passage of time and its effect on relationships lend itself to the aural equivalent of, say, Last Year in Marienbad….

Here, the preoccupations are mostly contemporary, not too wide-ranging if in the future or the past, and neatly signposted: Haitian Divorce allows the stage whispered "Now we dolly back, Now we fade to black" to set the scene for a cunningly unfaithful spouse to return home; a mind-bending Californian chemist from the 1960s finds himself transmuted into obsolescence; cave paintings silently scream a message across recorded history; the fetishist pleads "Don't make me do it without the fez on" to a disco beat; a sexual victim is seduced for a pair of earrings—and, in a stately musical setting, The Royal Scam itself comes into view: a biblically phrased allegory chronicling the waves of immigrants who poured into the land of milk and honey from the land of cows and bees without checking the price tag on the goodies. For me, at any rate, this is seventies rock at its most incisive—and, as such, is indispensable.

Pete Matthews, in his review of "The Royal Scam" (© copyright Pete Matthews 1976; reprinted with permission), in Records and Recording, Vol. 19, No. 11, August, 1976, p. 78 [the excerpt of Walter Becker's and Donald Fagen's lyrics used here was taken from "Haitian Divorce" (© copyright 1976, 1978 by Duchess Music Corporation, New York, NY, used by permission; all rights reserved); the excerpt of Walter Becker's, Donald Fagen's and Paul L. Griffin's lyrics used here was taken from "The Fez" (© copyright 1976 by Duchess Music Corporation, New York, NY; used by permission; all rights reserved)].